An estimated 5,500 migrants used the Storskog border crossing in 2015. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix
Moscow had previously agreed to take as many as 700 rejected asylum seekers but said on Wednesday it would only accept those who hold multi-entrance visas and legal residence, Thor Arne Aass from the Norwegian Justice Ministry told NTB
The meeting thus left the fate of 4,800 of the 5,500 people who came to Norway via the Arctic border crossing station Storskog last year uncertain.
Aass said that around half of the group of 700 migrants have already left Norway. Some 250 were returned to Russia, while an undisclosed amount were sent to their home countries.
Norway knows the whereabouts of some 200 rejected asylum seekers who can now be returned following the deal struck on Wednesday. Additionally, an unknown amount of people are unaccounted for.
During the Wednesday meeting between delegations from the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russia’s Federal Migration Service, the Russians stressed that the halt it put on returns over Storskog on January 22 was for practical reasons.
“We understand that. Both sides agree that it can be appropriate to return them to another location. And thus a flight to Moscow is an obvious solution,” Aass said.
Norway did not receive any guarantees from Moscow that there would not be new influxes of asylum seekers over Storskog in the future.
“We expressed that we have a shared interest in controlled and regulated immigration and that it is an unfortunate situation that this Arctic route has become a main channel into Schengen. The Russians agreed with us on this,” he said.
Throughout the course of 2015, 5,500 asylum seekers rode bicycles from Russia to Norway over the Storskog crossing as a way to sidestep border agreements that make it illegal either to cross the border on foot or to give someone without papers a lift.
At the end of November, Norway announced that it would immediately reject asylum seekers who have been residing in Russia. Moscow in turn began sending the denied migrants back to Norway before Oslo agreed to halt the returns on January 22.
Since Norway’s November announcement, asylum seekers have all but abandoned the Storskog crossing.
Although Wednesday’s meeting left a disagreement on the return of up to 4,800 people, the Russian authorities expressed a willingness to evaluate individual cases in which the rejected asylum seekers have a “special connection” to Russia.
Additionally, the Norwegian delegation was informed that the Russian authorities were investigating reports that a former diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry is behind five different companies that issued false work permits to around 1,000 Syrians.
“It is something the Russians are taking seriously,” Aass said.