An interview with a carrier of Syrian refugees

I’ve had two enquiries in response of my previous post on the situation at the Boris-Glebe border crossing point and the nearby industrial town of Nickel. Those tracking the subject may find the following verbatim translation of an interview with an unnamed refugee runner, posted on Bloger51, interesting.


Photo: thebarentsobserver.com.

— How and when did you find yourself involved in this business?

— Starting in the summer. At the time the flow of refugees was small and not quite apparent. These were generally wealthy people and families running from the war or army draft.

There were lots of military guys and men of draft age who would rather avoid becoming cannon foddler in Asad’s army. Lots of doctors too.

They would stop at our hotels and seek ways to make it to the border. An acquaintance in the hotel business would introduce us to our first clients in exchange for a certain percentage of the fee. After that they would give my phone number to their relatives and friends.

— Was that legal? The Norwegian side seems to threaten refugee runners with a prison term:

[A scan of an announcement by Norwegian police that those assisting the transport of illegal migrants will be subject to criminal charges and risk 3 to 6 years of prison.]

— I drive over the Russian territory and don’t break any laws. When asked to drive I do. What’s the legal issue with that?

— And how these people can make it to the border? There is a gate 20km from the border crossing point, where a border guard checkes if travellers have a visa. No visa – and people get turned back. Refugees have no visas, right?

— Think about it! These are citizens of different countries, not of Russia. If a foreigner wants to leave Russia, that’s his right.

If the border guard does not let them out (which, by the way, regularly happens now), what’s the reason for that? I emphasize: these are citizens of different countries. If we don’t let them out it means we are keeping them in our territory by force.

— OK. But it turns out there are people who have been living in Russia for several years. They don’t run from the war, do they?

— That’s how it turns out. So they have been living in Russia for let’s say three years, but they are still no citizens. They may even have documents prescribing their deportation from Russia. They found out that they can leave for Europe, and the first few of them enjoyed very good reception.

— How did they find out?

— From the news, from social networks. There in the Arab internet resources there is a strong campaign the main idea of which is why should we fight for Asad, get out of the country, get back later, when everything is over.

A couple of weeks before the explosive growth in the number of refugees a Syrian showed me a post with a step-by-step instruction how to make it to Norway through Murmansk.

But the main thrust of the post was that the Russians f*ck you up, in no case pay for anything, and this route is very cheap. The emphasis was on cheapness.

Then an article appeared in the World street journal, and dozens of other sources report on the cheap route into Europe. And that’s when the wave started.. Even those who did not originally plan to because they lacked money.

[An interview with a migrant, in Russian.]

That’s a strange story. Look here: a wave of migrants comes over Europe. Recall the news about Hungary, Turkey, Greece.. And here these people are shown a different, cheaper way in.

And what do we have here? We are under the threat of terrorism, and relations with Norwegia are spoiled. Have we won? No. Has Norway won? Don’t think so.

— The situation with Syrians is more-or-less clear. But why are there so many Afghanians and other strange arabs?

And people from Bangladesh, Indians, Yemen citizens etc. It’s all the same – these are citizens of countires different from Russia, believing that’s their chance to get into Europe and stay there.

The head of police of the Eastern Finmark provice of Norway: “Citizens of Afghanistan lacking sufficient justification for refugee status will be deported to Kabul”.http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/anqmic/50093394/28449/28449_600.jpg

A Pakistanian: “If accepted I’ll be thankful. If not, there is no way I’m coming back”.

They home to somehow get settled. Note that there are hardly any old men among them. Some did well in their home country but view this as a chance to further improve their lives. Loaders from Moscow markets think they would be able to do the same in Norway for a better pay. Wealthy students, whose education in Russia is covered by their parents, join their friends to sort of continue studying further. Lots of motives.

How shall I put it? Lots of idiots among these refugees.

They don’t know the language. Not even English. Write and read with difficulty. Don’t understand where they are. There was a student of a sort in one of the groups I looked after. We are crossing the Kola Bay. He asks: “Is this the Volga?”. I thought he was joking. But no, he was entirely serious. I ask “Do you understand where you are now?”. “Yes”, he says, “in Siberia”.

— Why do they try to make it to Norway and not, eg. to Finland?

— You’ve yourself posted a video from Finland recently. There are people going to Finland. But the Finns have stricter migration laws from what I know. Second, there is the city of Nickel by the Norwegian border. There is nothing but forest by the Finnish border. Easy to die.

Plus the herd instinct: all are running to Norway and I will too because the name is familiar and I saw it in the news. That’s the third reason.

— Are refugees in Murmansk and Nickel the same people? 

— No. Wealthier people who are in Russia for the first time stop in Murmansk. Those who have lived in Russia for several years and have a bit of understanding come right to Nickel. Conditions there are worse but it is closer to Europe.

— What’s happening at the border right now? вThe Norway Police Department  tweets about daily records in the number of refugees.

— It’s a total f*ck up at the border. This silly bicycle story came out of the Russian prohibition to cross the border on foot.

Now our border patrol people try making crossing over as hard as possible. They don’t let some carriers into the 20km pre-border zone. Then people have no choice but to ride bikes. Turn refugees around because of problems with documents.

Two weeks ago they shoot in the air to disperse a crowd of Afghans who didn’t like not to be let through.

The Afghans, it must be said, started the problem themselves. Imagine yourself in the border guard’s place 20km from the border, and are confronted with a group of angry men who want to walk to the border crossing.

You are there with your partner. There are about 30 of them. You don’t let them through. Some of these thirty starts shouting, threatening, and others join. And you understand that you are nothing against these thirty.

Yes, then they would receive criminal charges, and you will get a certificate but that would happen later. Now this crowd can kick you and your partner down in no time. The border guards did receive reinforcement after the first attempt to storm the gate. There is competition among carriers. Recently a Merceded Vito was set on fire in Nickel. People make undue profits on refugees by driving them to Titovka and saying “there is the border” and driving off.

Or they exchange dollars at really lowered rate using the fact that many are not aware of the cost of money. It is not possible to rent an apartment in Nickel. Those who did that before the crowds started rented apartments long-term and now sublet them for 5 th. roubles [$90] per night.

— It turns out that a good carrier takes migrants as close as possible to the border crossing point, into the 20km stretch of the road. How is it that some can enter while others cannot?

— It depends on the carrier. They don’t ask us for money but do create difficulties. Some are able to talk their way through, others can’t. The outcome is that not all refugees make it to the border that day, which is considered a good result by border guards.

— I heared that the owner of Nickel hotel “Severnoye siyaniye” (aurora borealis) has some sort of permission to take migrants through. And if a migrant fails to cross the border his next attempt will cost him money again.

— I am not able to say anything about the second part. I’ve seen the owner of this hotel. He provided space for refugees, and his establishment can hardly be called hotel.

Possibly they let him make money by not requiring that he waits in line.

— Line?

— Yes, there is a line a few days ahead. Some secure a place there and sell “runs” – empty chairs in the vehicle.

– Do ordinary travellers have a problem crossing the border? 

— No, travellers take the green corridor. Refugees follow the red one, where they are inspected.

— Do you think the number of refugees will grow?

— I hope not. It is starting to get cold, and there were a few cases of frost. The problem is that no one cares about these people, and the officials don’t want to take responsibility for somehow organizing this flow.

— How could it be organized?

— From the moment they land at the airport. The police meets them there.

I wish they’d get instructions on what to do. Then housing could be organized from where they would be taken by bus to the border.

— What’s the attitude of Nickel residents to these travellers?

— OK. Lots of people of many nations in Nickel now. Shops make record sales. Sellers clearly know what is halal and what is not.

Food ration of an average migrant: chips, coke, sneekers, chak-chak, packaged juice. I ask them how one can feed on it. The answer is that these things are certainly halal.

Ordinary people fix and restore bicycles to sell them for more.

If you read sci-fi books on space travel you may recall descriptions of transit planets full of very mixed public who stops there for rest and refuelling. Nickel has turned into something of that sort.

The cafes are full of carriers and their multinational clients in turbans and veils, and use gestures to figure out what food is made of what.

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