00:02 GMT +319 October 2019
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    Refugees enter the arrival centre for refugees near the town on Kirkenes, northern Norway

    Norway Admits It 'Ping-Ponged' Refugees to Test Russia

    © AFP 2019 / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
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    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)
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    Norway admits to have "tested" Russia at the height of the asylum crisis in 2015 by sending incoming refugees back and forth across the Norwegian-Russian border. This decision by the Norwegian government exacerbated the already dramatic situation in the far northern border region.

    In 2015, hundreds of asylum seekers poured into Norway through the so-called "Arctic route" via northern Russia's Murmansk Region, using the Norwegian border station Storskog as an entry point. When the influx seemed to reached its peak, the Norwegian border authorities were ordered to "test" Russia by returning asylum seekers not covered by the bilateral agreements.

    According to Tor Espen Haga, the then-chief of the police immigration unit in Finnmark County, this controversial created difficult situations and further increased the workload for stressed authorities.

    Over the course of two days, about 20 asylum seekers were sent back and forth between the Norwegian and the Russian border stations. Among them was a Syrian mother and her two daughters, who in desperation sat down in no man's land, refusing to be sent back.

    "I really hope they had a purpose for doing so, which went farther than we saw. For this may have deteriorated our relations with the Russian side," Tor Espen Haga told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    The situation also triggered a strong reaction from the Russian embassy.

    "This was an absolutely unacceptable and provocative praxis that contradicted the letter and the spirit of the Russian-Norwegian reversal agreement of 2007. Also, that's not how partners should treat each other," the Russian embassy wrote to NRK.

    Nevertheless, as the Norwegian Immigration Act was changed in record time, none other than the then-State Secretary Jøran Kallmyr to Storskog to instruct police officers.

    "For us it was important to put pressure on Russia for them to understand that they just could not just send people over the Norwegian border without having to face the consequences," Jøran Kallmyr told NRK, claiming it was right of Norway to test Russia's willingness to accept rejected asylum seekers.

    Even if none of those people that Kallemyr specifically wanted to return were accepted by the Russian side, he nevertheless claimed it was necessary to be a little "hard" on the Russians.

    In 2015, 5,445 asylum seekers representing 42 nations entered Norway via the Murmansk region, peaking at close to 200 people a day. Many of them cycled their way into Norway in order to bypass the restriction on crossing the border on foot. Migrants and refugees switched their attention to polar Russia as a lengthier, yet safer way to reach their desired destinations in the Nordic countries after a number of inundated Schengen member states decided to close their borders.

    While many Norwegian media initially blamed the migrant crisis on Moscow's crafty designs of a "hybrid war," these absurd conspiracy theories were later disproved by Norway's Fridtjof Nansen Institute, which explained that the asylum seekers were simply attracted by the cheap and safe travel route, as opposed to the costly and perilous voyage through the Mediterranean Sea. By migrants' own admission, they had to pay a $2,500 for a trip via Murmansk, whereas a voyage to Greece would have cost $18,000.

    ​The influx through the Arctic route later came to a standstill following bilateral agreements and decisive action on Russia's part.

     

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    Topic:
    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)

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    border controls, migrant crisis, Scandinavia, Russia, Murmansk, Norway
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