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Norway closes Arctic asylum centre as numbers plunge

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Norway closes Arctic asylum centre as numbers plunge
The sight of migrants crossing into Arctic Norway by bike was common last year but now no one has used the route for months. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix
16:17 CEST+02:00
The once-busy border with Russia has seen no arriving migrants since November, leading immigration officials to discontinue a reception centre in Kirkenes.
With asylum numbers plummeting, Norway will close down an asylum centre in Finnmark that was set up last year to deal with an influx of migrants taking the so-called ‘Arctic route' into the country from Russia. 
 
The asylum centre in Kirkenes near the Storskog border station with Russia was established to house as many as 600 people. But with no migrants attempting to enter Europe by crossing into Norway from Arctic Russia since November, the centre will now be closed. 
 
“The reason for the closure is that we have not had any arrivals of asylum seekers since November of last year,” Christine Wilberg, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), told VG. 
 
UDI said recently that just 1,185 asylum seekers came to Norway in the first third of 2016 – a 95 percent decrease from the same period last year and the lowest figure since 1997
 
Some 12,000 asylum accommodations currently sit empty across Norway. 
 
More than 5,000 migrants crossed into Norway from Russia in 2015 before Norwegian police were stationed at the Storskog border station at the beginning of December. Once the controls were put in place, the migrant flow came to an almost immediate stop.  
 
The Arctic route is significantly longer than crossing the Mediterranean but was seen by many asylum seekers and migrants as a safer alternative. Most of those who crossed into Norway from Russia came from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Those arriving made the last stretch of the journey by bicycle because Russian authorities do not let pedestrians cross the border and Norway considers it human trafficking to transport migrants in a vehicle.
 
A total of 31,145 people applied for asylum in Norway last year, nearly 20,000 more than in 2014. UDI originally anticipated that as many as 60,000 would arrive in 2016 but has now lowered that estimate to 25,000. 
 
Norway, a country of 5.2 million, is not a member of the EU, but it is a member of Europe's Schengen zone, whose internal borders have been scrapped.
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