Norway has a message for Syrian refugees who have spent some time in Russia on their way to Scandinavia: Go back where you came from. The NATO country will not accept asylum applications from Syrians who stayed in Russia for an extended period, according to news reports Thursday.
The decision comes as a refugee crisis engulfs Europe in general and after more than 1,000 Syrians moved into Norway from Russia so far this year. The journey is a safer way out of Syria than crossing the Mediterranean Sea, but it is long and difficult.
The rationale for denying Syrians haven in Norway if they have been in Russia for an extended period, as outlined by Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, is that Russia is a safe country and that anybody leaving it would no longer be classified as a refugee because they are not fleeing war, poverty or famine. Anundsen is a member of the anti-immigrant Progress Party.
The Syrian civil war has displaced at least 11 million civilians, a number that has placed an enormous burden on neighboring countries and threatened existing border regulations in Europe. Syria has an estimated 7.6 million people who are internally displaced by the conflict, which has destroyed many communities and cities. Most Syrians have simply fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which have the largest refugee populations living in their borders.
The number of displaced Syrians is an astounding half of the country's pre-civil war population. Before the civil war broke out in 2011, Syria had an estimated population of 22 million.