Date
24 March 2017
Migrants gather outside a hotel in the Russian town of Nikel next to bicycles often used to reach the Norwegian border. Photo: Reuters
Migrants gather outside a hotel in the Russian town of Nikel next to bicycles often used to reach the Norwegian border. Photo: Reuters

Bike shortage stems flow of migrants to Europe via arctic route

A shortage of bicycles to cross the border has sharply slowed the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe via the Russian Arctic.

People seeking asylum in Norway have been using bicycles to cross the border from Russia because pedestrian traffic is banned and drivers are fined if they transport passengers without proper documents, according to Reuters.

The numbers making that journey, many of them Syrians fleeing civil war, have increased dramatically in the past few weeks after governments in southern Europe cracked down on people trying to enter by that route.

A source said would-be asylum seekers are stranded in the Russian town of Nikel, the nearest big settlement to the border post.

They cannot cross into Norway.

“There are more than 500 Syrians here. They are continuing to flow into Nickel,” said the source.

“The local shops are empty of bicycles. No bus or taxi would take the Syrians to Norway because they do not have valid visas and the drivers would be fined by the Norwegians and stripped of their permits to work on international routes.”

Migrants were staying in hotels and dormitories in Nikel, where the temperature is round zero degrees Celsius and a snowstorm has moved in.

Some tried to cross illegally at some distance from the crossing point, but were caught and fined.

The arctic route is a more roundabout way of reaching Europe than crossing the Mediterranean, but the migrants taking the route think it is safer.

About 1,200 people made the journey this year, up from a dozen in 2014, Norway’s government said earlier this month.

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