Refugees in Arctic Norway resist deportation plans

Authorities plan to send dozens of mostly Syrian refugees back over the Russian border they crossed last autumn.

Norway Syrian refugees
Thousands of refugees entered Norway through its Arctic border with Russia [Reuters]

Dozens of asylum seekers in Norway’s Arctic region are resisting authorities’ plans to deport them to Russia.

Norway recently adopted stricter asylum policies and has started returning some of about 5,000 refugees and migrants who entered the country through the Russian-Norwegian border last autumn.

Some of those fearing deportation have left the asylum centre in Vadso, near the border, where they are being housed. Their whereabouts are not known.

About 30 asylum seekers, mostly Syrians, also went on a brief hunger strike to protest against the plan to send 55 people to Russia by bus. 

Police have been rounding up refugees due to be deported over the weekend after Russian authorities confirmed that those with valid visas to Russia could be returned to the country.

Legal challenge

In sharp criticism of the move, Halvor Frihagen, a Norwegian migration lawyer, said that attempts to return refugees to Russia put them at risk and contravened European Union human rights. 

“The asylum seekers are detained and have not been given the possibility to appeal the decisions. This is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, article 13,” Frihagen told Al Jazeera.

He said that many of the asylum seekers may face persecution or deportation to places where they risk persecution.

“Norway considers Russia a safe first country of asylum, despite several convictions in the European Court of Human Rights, including for detaining asylum seekers with a view of deporting them to Syria,” Frihagen said.

“Furthermore there is a risk of ill treatment during detention, and other risks in Russia. The plan is to deport the asylum seekers to northern Russia, where there are no asylum camps or other services to them, and the temperatures at the moment are minus 25C.

“We fear that families with children will be left outside in the cold.”

Arriving by bike

The overwhelming majority of refugees trying to reach Norway have come using boats leaving North Africa and Turkey and then overland through EU member states.

A small proportion, however, have taken the so-called Arctic Route through Russia – crossing the Norwegian border by bike as Russia does not allow anyone to cross on foot.

A pile of abandoned bikes at the Storskog border station has become the symbol of the northern refugee influx, with thousands of cheap bikes used by asylum seekers being sent for destruction as they do not meet Norwegian safety standards.

The influx stopped in November, after Russia and Norway reached a deal by which Oslo would immediately reject claims of asylum made by people who crossed into Norway from Russia. 

The move came as part of a broader move to reduce immigration to the country brought on by the success of right-wing parties during last September’s elections.

Under a deal agreed by a wide section of political parties, the government will reduce asylum seekers’ social benefits, and speed up the processing of some cases and the expulsion of rejected asylum seekers. 

From the beginning of 2015 through to November, at least 29,000 people sought asylum in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera