Syrians Living In Russia Exploit Migrant Crisis To Seek Asylum In Europe

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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Some Syrians living peacefully in Russia are taking advantage of the migrant crisis to seek asylum in Europe by way of a newly popular route into Norway.

“Syrian citizenship generally confers Refugee status in Europe,” notes Andrew Higgins of The New York Times, in a report about the exploding popularity of a route from Russia into northern Norway. Some Syrians already living in Russia are now using that route to pop across the border and claim asylum they normally might not be granted.

They see the path across the Russian border with Norway as a newly available opportunity for “a better life,” reported the Times. The outpost they’re heading for is 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. (RELATED: UN Finds Most Migrants Making For Europe Are Adult Men)

Only a few migrants crossed that border in early 2015, but word of the generous welcome they received has spread and drawn attention to a new route that is relatively safe and inexpensive. The number of crossings “exploded” in September, with more than 200 migrants recently crossing in just one week.

The first group of Syrians who arrived from Russia this year were shuttled to an expensive hotel in the nearby sea-side town of Kirkenes, where they stayed the night, and then flown to Oslo the following day to process their asylum applications — all at the expense of the Norwegian government.

“Maybe we gave the wrong picture in the beginning,” Stein Hansen, the Norwegian border police chief, told the Times. “We are not a travel agency.” Some migrants “are taking advantage of the situation,” he added. (RELATED: German Welcome Inspires Second Wave Of Migrants)

Hansen told the Times more than 600 migrants — primarily from Syria — have crossed the border this year. Norwegian police reported a smaller number of about 170 crossings to Reuters.

Both of those numbers are tiny, compared to the hundreds of thousands of crossings at other European borders, but it’s still a lot for the the 10,200 residents of Kirkenes to handle. And some worry the number of crossings will keep increasing.

“There are so many Syrians on the move,” a senior adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Concil, Paul Nesse, told Reuters. “With the old ties between Syria and Russia I expect there will be a few Syrian students in Russia who decide this is not a good time to go home.”

Kirkenes Mayor Cecilie Hansen was initially confident her wealthy town in the richest country in the world “should be able to handle [the migrants],” but admitted later the logistics are “much tougher” than expected. (RELATED: Germany ‘Struggling’ To Ward Off Panic Over Migrant Crisis)

In an apparent effort to deflect attention from the route, Norwegian authorities recently began forbidding journalists from conducting interviews or taking photos in the area.

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