Kirkenes is a small town situated about 400 km north of Norway´s Artic Circle and just a little over 14 km from the state border with Russia. Population: About 3,500. Average Temperature: Below 0. After the dismantling of some Nazi military basis at the end of World War 2, not much has happened in this isolated corner of the world up until about one year ago, when an unexpected amount refugees from the Middle East started crossing the border using a rather unique means of transportion: Bikes.

kirkenes map

According to the law regulating the transit of people from Russia to Norway, travelers are forbidden to cross into the country on foot and also by car if the passengers don´t have the required legal papers. However, no other means of transportation is mentioned in the document, creating a loophole for migrants to enter Norway legally if they are travelling, for example, by bike. The news spread across the internet and soon groups of immigrants mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were seen biking through the ice-cold air of the desolated artic landscape in an effort to secure a months-long dream of a better life in a stable and prosperous European country.

Quite a surreal, almost amusing image, would it not be for the stories that the refugees share with locals and journalists once the border is crossed. Many of them come from very far away, they obtained Russian visas when the war started but they experienced discrimination and hardship in their new host country, and were often caught up in bureaucratic limbos where no legal status was recognized to them, exposing them to a constant risk of expulsion. Many decided then to move on to a more secure position and found their way over this new, less-known route.

At first it was about five to twenty people a month, then they started crossing by the hundreds and as of today an estimated 2,000 immigrants have made it to the small town. The most important contributing factor seems to be that some people on the Russian side have organized to provide the refugees with the help they need to reach this remote border crossing point, by driving them there from the closest airport in the city of Murmansk and then giving them a bike to enter Norway. The cost of this ticket to Europe? Between 130€ and 200€, much cheaper than journey through the Mediterranean Sea, which usually costs over 1,000€.

But there is a catch: First of all, the refugees have to reach Murmansk independently and since many people live in Moscow the only option is flying, which can be somewhat expensive. Moreover, many “smugglers” don´t drive all the way to the border because they are afraid of being arrested and jailed by local police. For this reasons many surprised refugees have found themselves tossed out of the car at some gas station in the middle of the Russian Tundra with only a children bike – cheaper for the smuggler than an adult bike– and more than 40 km in front of them until the border.


And yet this hasn´t stopped people from trying to reach Kirkenes and it is estimated that almost 11,000 people may arrive before the end of this year, an occurrence which would double the entire municipality´s population. Most of them are quickly boarded onto planes directed to Oslo´s welcome centers but since authorities cannot predict a foreseeable end to this phenomenon, a reception center is being built in the town itself to accommodate the arising number of arrivals.

It seems that the desperation that drives these migrants will not allow them to stop at any obstacle that is put between them and their dreams of safety; might it be an uncertain journey through the pitch black and dangerous waters of the Mediterranean Sea or a lonely bike ride across the deserted spaces of the Artic, they will always find a new way to escape their past of violence and abuse and attempt to build a new life in the idyllic European Safe Haven.