Queue of people and vehicles at Storskog border check-point.(Photo: Thomas Nilsen)
STORSKOG: Queues are getting longer as traffic between Russia and Norway is now twice the capacity at the old border check-point. Chief of Police in Eastern Finnmark, Ellen Kathrine Hætta, urges funding to new facilities.
Patient travelers are queuing up behind the gates waiting for passport and customs control to Norway. This is a normal Saturday morning at Europe’s northernmost border-check-point with Russia. The majority are people from the Kola Peninsula driving across the border for shopping and visiting friends on the Norwegian side.
Gone are the days with Cold War and mistrust. People-to-people contacts have normalized relations across the border.
The lines of private cars mirror the financial growth in the Murmansk region. Many are passengers in minibuses, heading for the airport in Kirkenes or for a day-trip to the shopping malls down-town.
Plans to expand the border facilities to meet the booming traffic have existed for years. With exception of two extra control windows each way, little has happened. Now, the police blow the whistle.
“We are in hurry,” says Ellen Kathrine Hætta, Chief of the Police in charge of the border control to BarentsObserver. “The current facility here at Storskog was built in the early 90ies with a capacity of up to 150,000 border crossings annually. This year, we will have more than the double of that,” she says.
“One thing is the passport control of each traveler. The other thing is the control we need to do of all vehicles outside. The passport control is not problematic, since everybody stands in a line for the control. The problem is outside. If there is a traffic increase there is a possibility that we might lose control here,” says Ellen Kathrine Hætta.
Ellen Kathrine Hætta is Chief of Police in Eastern Finnmark. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen)
The police expect even more border crossings next year. Some say 400,000, others even more.
Norway’s visa-center in Murmansk issues more Schengen-visas to Norway than ever before. There are nearly 800,000 people living on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. That is 11 times more than in neighbouring Finnmark county.
Ellen Kathrine Hætta hopes for governmental support and budget funding to new facilities. She now get support from Foreign Minister Børge Brende. Talking with BarentsObserver before the Barents Council meeting in Tromsø, Brende says the government makes priority to building a modern border check-point. In this video-interview, Børge Brende says new facilities both on the Norwegian, but also on the Russian side of the border will be on the agenda when the Barents Council meeting starts Tuesday.