Refugee overload for Arctic border town

About 1200 refugees have crossed the Russian-Norwegian border in just a few months, most of them by bicycle.

As Syrian refugees in the hundreds cross over from Russia, capacities in Kirkenes reach the limits. Now an abandoned military compound is turned into refugee reception center.


On a windy hill outside Kirkenes representatives of the Norwegian Directorate of Civil Protection show journalists around in buildings, which formerly housed military units guarding the nearby border to Russia.

Just a couple of hundred meters away, noisy aircrafts taxi down the local airport runway and take off towards far away destinations.

Now, this will be a major reception center for the refugees running from conflict in Syria, through Russia and across the Arctic border to Norway. In only few weeks, the number of Syrians crossing the Russian-Norwegian border has exploded. In the course of the first eight months of the year, about 200 refugees had crossed the border. One and a half month later, the number exceeded 1200. And the flow of people keeps growing.

Information from the Norwegian police in East Finnmark show that close to 600 refugees have crossed the border only the last week.

In order to cope with the situation, Norwegian authorities in mid-September opened a refugee reception center with 150 people capacity in a local shelter originally built for cold war conflict situations. Later, all rooms in two local hotels were hired. Now, the abandoned military compond is to give additional relief to the situation.

The new transit center will have capacity to house 600 people, and receive as many as 300 new people per day, Lars Sørsdal from the Directorate of Civil Protection says.

With all the capacities in place, Kirkenes will be able to handle about 1000 refugees in transit.

A number of institutions are involved in the operation with the new refugee center, among them the local hospital, the police, the Civil Defence and the Directorate of Immigration.

It is the latter Directorate of Immigration which is to formally run and operate the new center.

The involved authorities are now in full swing with preparing the facility. A local construction company is making necessary renovation and adjustments in the building. A number of temporary housing blocks will be placed on the site.

According to the plan, the center will be operational already by first week of November.

”Time is the key issue”, Sørsdal underlines.

He does not dare to predict whether the 300 per day capacity will be sufficient.

Likewise, he does not dare say how long the refugee facility will be in operation. ”We will take half a year at a time and make assessments underway”, Sørsdal says.