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Norway to Refugees: If You Came on a Bike, You’ll Probably Leave on a Bike.
Refugees who enter Norway by bike may find themselves leaving that way.
Last year, some 5,500 asylum-seekers figured out a way to get around Norway’s strict immigration policies. Russian law doesn’t allow pedestrians to cross the Russia-Norway border, and Norway bars undocumented entry in vehicles.
But no one asks for documents if you’re on two wheels. What started with a few cycling refugees quickly turned into thousands, with most of them entering through Storskog, near the border with Russia. But bicyclists who were caught without a transit visa — even weeks or months later — were turned back by bike too.
On Wednesday, despite frigid temperatures in the Arctic city, Police Directorate chief Jan Erik Thomassen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that police were gathering up bikes left behind at the border so that refugees could use them to bike back to where they came from — Russia.
“I can understand that it feels a bit awkward and odd,” he added, explaining that Norway would prefer not to force refugees to leave by bike, but that Russia was not willing to allow them to cross the border any other way.
By Thursday, that appeared to have changed: Norwegian authorities said in a statement that they had reached a deal with Russia to allow foreign citizens “with permanent residency or a multiple-entry visa [to] be sent back by bus.”
Some of those now facing expulsion might qualify for that bus trip and avoid traveling back by bike. A large number of Syrian refugees entered Russia with legal visas they had obtained at home and then only had to travel 130 miles from the northern Russian city of Murmansk to reach Norway, which is in Europe’s Schengen Area.
Still, Russia isn’t the most desirable location for those fleeing war: Of the some 12,000 Syrians who have reportedly arrived in Russia, only around a third have been granted legal status. And Russia and Norway have butted heads on other occasions when Norwegian authorities have tried to send back refugees with legal residency in Russia.
Photo credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images