"The promotion of tourism across national borders will strengthen human contacts and mutually benefial economic development with positive effects for employment and business activities."
Kirkenes Declaration 1993
The Barents Euro-Arctic Region is characterized by its diversity and extensive territory. The region consists of 13 municipalitiess located in the northernmost parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Northwest Russia. Around five and a half million people live in this area. The arctic climate, exotic midnight sun, dark polar nights, northern lights, cold winters, vast natural resources and diverse of cultural heritage offer both a fertile but also a challenging ground for tourism development. The Barents Region is nowadays considered one of Europe's largest regions for interregional cooperation.
Barents Tourism Action Plan has been created to promote interregional tourism cooperation in the Barents Region. Interregional tourism cooperation will help strengthen the attractiveness and accessibility and promote public awareness of different destinations situated in the Barents Region. This Action Plan is based on extensive research, backround material and expert consultations. Interviews were conducted among small- and medium-sized Barents tourism enterprises which located in Finnish Lapland, Swedish Lapland, Northern Norway, Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. Interviews provided critical information on the needs and expectations of tourism enterprises regarding tourism developlent in the Barents Region.
This Action Plan focuses on five key areas: cooperation, education and knowledge, accessibility and transportation infrastructure, product development and place identity. These five key action areas have been identified as vital to promoting interregional tourism develoment in the Barents Region.
Barents Tourism Action Plan has been has been produced as a part of Barents tourism development project BART - Public-Private Partnership in Barents Tourism funded by European Union Kolarctic ENPI CBC program. The Barents Tourism Action Plan was done in cooperation with Barents Euro-Arctic Joint Working Group on Tourism (JWGT).
Almost 5000 asylum seekers have crossed the Norwegian-Russian border since the European migrant crisis arose. The Norwegian government decides to toughen the asylum regulations.
The crisis flared up this September, when the situation in the Middle East became critical. Syrian refugees started to seek shelter in Northern Norway, massively crossing the border from Murmansk Oblast to Finnmark County by bicycles. According to the law, it is forbidden to cross the border by foot. As a result, a big pile of vehicles appeared near the Storskog crossing point, something that has gained much attention in the media.
The NRK reported that, in Russia, the situation has turned into a well-elaborated business: representatives of a special organization meet refugees in Moscow, after which they are brought to Murmansk by train or by plane, then by bus to Nikel, where they finally switch to bicycles. For all of these services the refugees pay around $600.
As the migrants enter Norway, they are brought to a transit reception center, located in the border town of Kirkenes, before they are distributed to various asylum reception centers in Northern Norway. According to NRK, there are currently 13,880 acute places for asylum seekers in Norway, distributed between 85 temporary reception centers. Around thirty of these centers are located in Barents Norway.
According to statistics from Patchwork Barents and the East Finnmark Police District, the migrant flow to Northern Norway began with 215 asylum seekers in September. In October, their number was already nine times as high as in the previous month: 2,018 people crossed the Storskog border crossing point in October. The figure continued to grow further. Only in the first week of November, the police district registered 818 refugees crossing the border.
Also on the Russian side of the border, there was a strained situation. At the beginning of the month, more than two hundred migrants settled in a small hotel in Nikel, called “Severnoye Siyanie” (“Northern Lights”). Since the hotel did not have enough space for two hundred people, many of them had to sleep in halls and corridors, something that started to worry locals, as SeverPost previously reported. The regional administration of Pechenga even posted a warning on their official website about a possibility of terror attacks due to an increased refugee flow. However, the warning eventually disappeared from the website.
A week later, almost all of these migrants had left Nikel and crossed the border to Norway. Only two families were still staying at the hotel, writes B-port with reference to the local government of Pechenga. Currently, it is unclear whether there will be another rush of refugees into Nikel.
The daily number of refugees crossing the Norwegian-Russian border between September and November 2015. Patchwork Barents
Norway adopts stricter asylum regulations
The Norwegian government is very concerned about the situation with refugees in the country. As the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) recently reported to NRK, Norway already spends over 325 million NOK every month on emergency centers for refugees.
Last month, the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg declared that helping asylum seekers could eventually cost Norway up to forty to fifty billion NOK. In addition, it became known that many of those attempting to come to Norway through Murmansk Oblast have already been living in Russia for longer periods, and went to Norway just in search of a better life. The UDI has since been warning about possible deportation of such people.
On October 9, SeverPost reported about the first deported refugee, with reference to its own source of information. After that, the Norwegian media also started to report similar cases. Last Monday, the chief constable of the East Finnmark Police District, Ellen Katrine Hætta, informed NRK that forty people who came to Norway from Russia without a valid Schengen visa were sent back from the border.
Finally, Norway has decided to make asylum regulations stricter as an attempt to reduce the migrant flow. According to information from its official website, the government intends to
“(…) reduce benefits for people living in reception centers by twenty percent; benefits for families with children will be reduced by 10%; change the period of residence to become eligible for permanent residence from 3 to 5 years; issue temporary residence permits and facilitate return if the situation in the country of habitual residence changes; use integration criteria for the granting of applications for permanent residence; limit family reunification and family establishment rights for refugees; collaborate with the Iraqi authorities to establish structures for return to safe areas of Iraq, so that Iraqis and internal refugees in Iraq who have been ordered to leave Norway can be referred for internal flight.”
The government especially warns that Afghans not entitled to residence will be deported.
“Anyone crossing the border into Norway must have a visa. Norway will return people who are not entitled to residence in Norway to their country of habitual residence. Applications that appear likely to be denied will be given priority and fast-tracked. People from safe areas of Afghanistan or who have been granted residence in another country will have their application rejected and will be deported”, says the website.
“People from areas that are not considered safe, may be returned to other parts of Afghanistan. Very many Afghans who have their application rejected will be referred for “internal flight” to Kabul”, the government informs.
In 2014 and 2015, more than five hundred people have been sent back from Norway to Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public security has reportedly “instructed the Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and the Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) to reject applications from asylum seekers arriving in Norway after having resided in Russia, without considering individual cases in depth”.
The instruction came into force this Thursday, although last weeks’ data from the East Finnmark Police District has already shown a considerable decrease in the number of migrants. While the daily figures nearly approached two hundred people in the beginning of November, this week, they went down to twenty-four people.
Seen from the Barents perspective
The refugee crisis has made different impact in the other Barents countries. Sweden, for example, has accepted the largest number of refugees, while Finland the lowest.
Interestingly, the national immigration services in Sweden, Norway and Finland also report considerably different asylum application figures. So far in 2015 (January-November), Sweden has received 112,264 asylum applications, which is thirty-eight percent more than it received in the twelve months of 2014. Norway received 21,946 asylum applications in 2015, while Finland only received 4,453 applications.
At the end of June 2015, the Russian Federal Migration Service reported that the total number of people registered as asylum seekers in Russia was 315,313. Among these people, only 816 had the status of “refugee”.
See Patchwork Barents’ visualizations of asylum statistics below.
This story is published in cooperation with Patchwork Barents.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende has asked Russia for an explanation to the high number of asylum seekers coming to Norway via Russia. Syrian refugees that have lived in Russia for a long time, will be stopped on the border and sent back.
“I asked for a report on why there are hundreds of asylum seekers coming from Russia to Norway, while there are no-one coming from Russia to Finland,” Brende said to NRK.
Brende on Wednesday met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in connection with the meeting in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in Oulu, Finland.
“Mr. Lavrov said he would look into the matter,” Brende said.
Only during the last week 378 refugees crossed the border between Russia and Norway at Storskog, the only border-crossing point between the two countries.
So far more than 1200 people have come from Russia to Norway to ask for asylum. In 2014 the total number was 20. Norwegian immigration authorities believe the number can reach 5000 by the end of the year.
Can be sent back to Russia
Minister of Justice Anders Anundsen suspects that the large traffic of refugees from Russia is organized, and wants asylum seekers with no real need for protection in Norway, to be returned to Russia. Some of the people who are now applying for asylum in Norway, have lived in Russia for as long as up to twelve years.
“Many of them came to Russia long before the war in Syria started, “Anundsen said to NRK. “They are not in need, and can live safely in Russia. We have to spend our resources on those who really need protection.”
Anundsen is now working on a set of instructions that will order the Norwegian Immigration Service (UDI) to prioritize to return to Russia people who have lived there for a long time. He hopes the instructions will come into force already next week.
Norway and Russia in 2007 concluded an agreement on return that allows Norwegian authorities to stop people on the border and send them back to Russia, if they have permission to live there.
“People twho don’t have permission to live in Russia and have fled directly from war zones, will of course have their applications handled properly,” Anundsen underlines.
The number of people crossing the Norwegian-Russian border continues to drop.
Figures from the Norwegian police show that the negative trend in traveling between the two countries continues. In September, a total of 19392 people crossed the checkpoint of Storskog, a decline of 25,8 percent compared with the same period in 2014.
So far this year, a total of 183496 people have crossed the border, a year-on-year decrease of 24,5 percent.
The downturn in travelling comes after several years of increase. Between 2009 and 2013, the border traffic almost trippled to more than 320,000 people. The shift started in spring 2013, first with a stagnation in the figures in spring and later with a major decline in fall.
The Norwegian-Russian border is 196 km long and has only one border-crossing point, the Storskog-Borisoglebsk checkpoints.
The negative trend in traveling coincides with the weakening of the ruble and the worsening in relations between Russia and its neighbors.
As illustrated by figures from Patchwork Barents the regional dataporta, the trend is similar on the Russian-Finnish border. After years of increase, border traffic between the northern Finnish region of Lapland and Murmansk in 2014 dropped by almost 15 percent.
More and more refugees from Syria and other countries choose to come to Norway via Russia. In the border town of Kirkenes a second refugee reception center is opening.
The number of refugees crossing the Russian-Norwegian border at Storskog border-crossing point this year has already reached 500, and the police predicts that more will come.
Only a few days ago the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and Sør-Varanger municipality opened a refugee reception center in a sports hall in Kirkenes.
The center already houses 110 refugees waiting to be relocated to other places in Norway. The refugees are being registered, and given medical examination at the local hospital.
A second reception center is now opening at a hotel in Neiden, some 30 kilometers outside Kirkenes. This center will have room for 100 persons, Sør-Varanger Avis writes.
Many of the refugees coming to Norway from Russia, have stayed in Russia for a longer period, in some cases as long as five to seven years. Many of them have lived in Moscow on student visas or work visas, the National Police Immigration Service says according to NRK.
Fewer job opportunities and a feeling that being a foreigner in Russia has become more difficult make many of the Syrians want to leave Russia, one of the refugees in the reception center in Kirkenes says to NRK.
As Russian border regulations say that it is not allowed to cross the border on foot, and Norwegian police is punishing drivers transporting people without documents across the border, the only solution for the refugees has been to cycle across the border. The police at Storskog is wondering what to do with the more than 350 bicycles that are filling up their garages and parking places. Many refugee centers in Norway have asked to be given some of the bicycles, but since most of the bicycles do not answer to Norwegian standards of safety, the police are reluctant to give them away, NRK writes.