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Refugees seek safety via Arctic route
03:01 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Norway's immigration body: Afghans coming from Russia may be sent back to Kabul

Number of Afghans seeking asylum surpassed number of Syrians for first time last week, says immigration body

Stern warning directed at Afghans who already have legal right to stay in Russia

CNN  — 

The Norwegian government has sent a stern warning to Afghan asylum seekers coming across the border from Russia: You could get a one-way ticket to Kabul.

Hundreds of migrants have been crossing into Norway from Russia each week via the frontier above the Arctic Circle – but last week marked a turning point, with more Afghans than Syrians seeking asylum for the first time, Norway’s Directorate of Immigration said.

The government’s strong message is directed at those Afghans who have legal papers to stay in Russia – and the threat to send them straight back to their homeland is meant as a deterrent to other Afghans with the same idea.

“It is important that the Norwegian authorities are sending a clear signal to people who do not need protection or already are legally residing in Russia,” Anders Anundsen, minister of Justice and Public Security said in statement on the government’s website.

READ MORE: Above the Arctic Circle, Middle East refugees bike their way to salvation

Afghans may also be sent back to Russia, the statement added. In 2014, Afghanistan entered a “new period of instability,” according to human rights NGO Human Rights Watch, in which growing pressure from the Taliban, among other factors, contributed to a decline in respect for human rights throughout the country.

The group reported that the situation in Russia is also deteriorating with an “intensifying crackdown” on civil society, media and the Internet.

Cycling the Arctic route

The first refugees started coming across Norway’s Storskog border crossing with Russia in February this year, police Superintendent Stein Hansen told CNN, adding that they were Syrian.

“I think the rumor has spread about the route,” said Hansen, who is in charge of registering the asylum-seekers crossing the border. “Everyone coming to Norway are phoning home and saying: ‘OK it went fine – you can come this way.’ “

Russia does not allow pedestrian crossings at Storskog, and Norway penalizes drivers who transport asylum-seekers. This confluence of Norwegian law and Russian regulation has meant that refugees hoping to come through the Storskog border crossing between the two countries must make the last leg of their journey on bikes.

In August, 420 people made the crossing here. Now there are about 500 coming a week.

What’s changed recently, say the Norwegians, is the makeup of those seeking asylum.

Last week, 899 Afghans and 692 Syrians registered asylum applications in Norway, according to The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).

“Afghans without need for asylum coming on the Arctic route from Russia, risk being sent to Kabul,” Martin Andersson, a press adviser with the UDI told CNN. “All cases will be individually assessed. People who have been legally residing in Russia may also be refused residence and sent back to Russia.”

CNN’s Arwa Damon and Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.