Migrants Choose Russian Cold Arctic Route to Europe

People seeking to travel to Europe in a bid to find a better life have been trying the cold Arctic route to get to Norway after travelling to Moscow, the Russian capital.

Bearing the extreme cold weather, the would-be asylum seekers use bicycles to cross the border from Russia to Norway, one of the world’s richest nations and a member of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

Russian laws bar anyone from going on foot to the frontier and it is illegal under Norwegian law to willingly give a lift to people without proper identity papers, prompting some refugees to cover the final stretch by bicycle.

However the numbers making the journey through the Arctic port of Murmansk – most of them Syrians fleeing civil war and others from Afghanistan and Pakistan – slowed dramatically due to a shortage of bicycles to cross the border, a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Many of those that had made it to the border post said they were from Afghanistan and were fleeing war and poverty.

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

Osman Alemi, an Afghan national, said the group he was with had cycled some 17 kilometers to reach the Russian border post.

“Now we came with bicycles for about 17 kilometers, we passed and finally we have arrived here in the border. We came here to take our exit – our exit stamp and go to Norway,” said Alemi.

“My life in Afghanistan was in danger, I left there and then in Moscow, I want to go someplace that I can be in peace, and I can live in peace,” he added.

Migrants are staying in hotels and dormitories in Nikel, where temperatures have reached around zero degrees Celsius and a snowstorm had moved in last week.

Qais Faridoun, another migrant from Afghanistan said he set out to buy a bicycle immediately after arriving in Nikel, having travelled from Moscow.

“There is no other option for us there. We have to go to Norway. I don’t know any other way, there isn’t one,” he said in Russian.

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.

Refugees who seek asylum in Norway are flown to Oslo for registration before their applications are considered.

This comes after the UN Refugee Agency announced Monday that more than 218,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October — a monthly record and more than during the whole of 2014.

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