Some 5,500 refugees and migrants crossed into Norway from Russia by bike last year, sidestepping border agreements that make it illegal either to cross the border on foot or to give someone without papers a lift.
Now all of those refugees, primarily Syrians, who came via the Storskog border station — just two hours drive from the Arctic City of Murmansk in Russia's far north — will be sent back to Russia. That journey, too, will be made on two wheels.
The National Police Directorate Norway ( Politidirektoratet) has asked police districts to reclaim and refurbish the bicycles that were abandoned at Storskog.
“We asked that they bikes that were left behind or claimed by the police be gathered up for use by the foreigners who will be returned to Russia,” Jan Erik Thomassen, a Police Directorate section head, told broadcaster NRK.
“I can understand that it feels a bit awkward and odd,” he added.
Thomassen said that police are trying to avoid having refugees bike back to Russia, but that requires the cooperation of the Russians.
After Norway announced in November that it would immediately reject asylum seekers who have been residing in Russia, the two countries began sending the expelled back and forth.
But newly-appointed Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug said on Tuesday that all migrants who crossed at Storskog would be sent back to Russia.
“It is very important for us to cooperate with the Russian authorities to get them to accept those who were sent here without a transit visa,” she told NRK.
The Norwegian Organization for Asylum (NOAS) was highly critical of Listhaug’s plan to send migrants back to Russia.
“Norway can’t return asylum seekers to Russia, which will in turn send them back to Syria. We have principles pertaining to international law that Norway must uphold,” Jon Ole Martinsen, a senior consultant with the group, told NRK.