Post by Haakon Lein
You might have seen the photo – a simple pile of bicycles that made it to the front page of the New York Times earlier this month. The photo was followed by an article about Syrian migrants reaching Europe through an ‘arctic bike race’. The story also reached Australian news, which explained how asylum seekers are using the northernmost (and for many a most unlikely) route, which requires that they pass the Russian–Norwegian border either by car or bike. As drivers who bring them directly to the border crossing risk being fined, the solution is to get on a bike when approaching the Russian border station.
Last week, 489 asylum seekers crossed the border on bike, the week before 501. Before ending up on a bike at the border, they have come through Moscow either by bus, train or plane to the city of Murmansk. On this last part of this journey they will pass through a little known but truly fascinating region. For the last seven years our department has taken masters students in geography on an annual fieldtrip to Kirkenes, Murmansk and other parts of the Kola Peninsula. The purpose has been to provide initial training in practical fieldwork as well as to get the students to know more about our powerful neighbour to the east. We have travelled the route the asylum seekers now take quite a number of times.