In late October, hundreds of refugees arrived at a hotel in Nikel, which served as a focal point for many people waiting to go to the Norwegian border to seek asylum. This week there are just a few families left, NRK reported.
“Last night [Wednesday] I was at the hotel that many use as their final stop before going over to the Norwegian side. A few weeks ago, there were hundreds of people in the hallways. Now there are just a few families in the rooms – maybe 20-30 people,” NRK journalist Bård Wormdal said.
He said that those remaining have tried to cross the border numerous times and have refused to give up.
Tightening of rules
On Monday, police in Eastern Finnmark began acting on new stricter requirements regarding who is allowed to come over the border to Norway. This means that border control agents are now assessing asylum seekers' identification papers before they even leave the Russian area. As a result, asylum seekers are essentially stopped before they even come to Norway.
“Once again, no asylum seekers crossed over Storskog today,” Eastern Finnmark Police announced on Thursday evening for the fourth time this week.
Thus, there have been zero asylum seekers across the border so far this week, compared to 492 in the previous week and 1,113 in the week before that.
NTB contacted the National Police Immigration Service Norway (Politiets Utlendingsenhet - PU) on Thursday evening, but PU had no exact figures on how many asylum seekers had been stopped at the border.
The new rules have led to disagreements between Russia and Norway, with Russian authorities unwilling to accept the dozens of asylum seekers that Norway has tried to return. Some have reportedly been denied re-entry to Russia because Russian authorities ruled that they only have transit visas and not residence permits.
On Tuesday, senior Norwegian and Russian experts met in Moscow, with both parties agreeing to maintain an active dialogue in order to find a solution, the Russian Embassy in Norway wrote on its Facebook page.
“Participants in the talks agreed to work toward a consensus on the ‘Borisoglebsk-Storkog' border crossing for third-country nationals and people without citizenship, and to step up work to clarify the new rules within the Norwegian immigration laws,” the embassy wrote.
On Friday, the two countries were due to exchange written proposals for a common understanding on readmission agreements. That will be followed by a new meeting.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende said that while the Norwegian–Russian dialogue at the senior official level is productive, he has no plans to bring the talks up at the ministerial level.
“Right now, it's about a legal understanding of what is included in the agreement and the possible need to clarify certain elements within it. Since that dialogue is moving along, I think we should keep it at that level,” Brende told NTB.