Norway's Storskog border post. Photo: Cornelius Poppe/NTB Scanpix
Norwegian Police are braced for a surge in the number of Syrian refugees crossing the country's border with Russia, after the Arctic route caught the attention of the world's press.
“There is no reason to believe that this will stop,” Hans Møllebakken, chief of police in the town of Kirkenes, deep within the Arctic Circle, told Norway's VG newspaper. “The fact is, if you have money, you can get from Damascus to Storskog in under 48 hours: This is the fast track to Schengen.”
Norwegian and French press spent much of Wednesday camped out at the Storskog border crossing, waiting to intercept a Syrian refugee, after a report last week in the local Sør-Varanger Avis on the new route sparked coverage across the world.
As Russian border regulations forbid anyone from crossing over by foot, and those driving refugees risk being charged with people smuggling, many travel by bike.
At 5pm on Wednesday, the first Syrian, a 20-year-old man came tottering over the border on brand-new bicycle, where, to his slight confusion, they were met by a small crowd of Norwegian and French journalists.
“I'm from Syria and spent a week getting myself up here,” the man told NRK before he was escorted away by border officials.
The man said he had travelled overland via Turkey and Russia.
After him came another, much older man, and then a family of six, including three children.
Just since Friday, a further 21 asylum seekers have arrived at Norway's Storskog border, more than used the crossing in the whole of 2014.
So far this year more than 160 refugees have crossed the border, most of them on bicycles.
“We have neither the manpower or facilities to handle a further increase in traffic,” Møllebakken warned NRK.
He told VG that most of the bicycles seemed to have been bought solely for the purposes of making the crossing.
“Most of the bikes are brand new, some of them still have plastic hanging on the screws,” he said.
There are no facilities at the border post, and refugees have to wait on a small sofa for police to arrive and take them Kirkenes, from where they are put on the first available flight to Oslo.