I haven’t covered in these emails the extraordinary--but gruesome--story of the hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting--and many drowning because they fail--to cross the Mediterranean in small boats, or even rubber rings, as they migrate to Europe (like the storks, which migrate every year back & forth between Germany & Africa). I avoid stories with horrific aspects, and thus tend to concentrate on the eccentric & the odd, or quirky; stories which I think will amuse or interest you, and are clean.
This story is one of those oddities, and concerns refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, but mostly from Syria; the story thus has it’s roots in utter horror, but I am not going to dwell on that.
“Mediterranean” comes from Latin & means, literally, “Middle Earth”; it almost certainly harks back back to the time, several thousand years ago at the top of the last Ice Age, when it was all a dry, fertile valley.
Many of the folks trying to cross the Mediterranean also come from the lands East of the Mediterranean (Syria, etc.), whilst the rest come from Africa. The folks in this little story are taking a much, much longer (but safer?) route:- overland through Russia, up to Murmansk in the far North-West, then to where Russia has a border with Norway.
The only official border crossing between Norway & Russia is at the Norwegian town of Storskog. Even though this town is within the Arctic Circle, the border crossing road, due to the same warm waters that wash Murmansk, stays open all year. That is due to the last gasp of the Gulf Stream, a warm river that flows within the waters of the North Atlantic ocean, all the way from Florida, USA, up past England (keeping the UK much warmer in Winter than Moscow) and ending at Murmansk.
In all of 2014, just seven asylum seekers crossed into Norway at the Storskog border. So far, in the month of October 2015 alone, there have been 1,100. The strangeness in this story is not that they are almost all young men, but that they all arrive on children’s bicycles!
The road between the 2 border control stations - one Norwegian (yellow), the other Russian (red/green) - is 120m (130 yards) long. Both sets of authorities are a bit touchy about it all:- Norway was occupied by the Nazis during WWII, and they launched attacks from Norwegian soil on Murmansk, whilst the Soviets tried to take back Finland (which shares a border with Norway) during WWII (they failed). The Russians refuse to allow any foot traffic, whilst the Norwegians make it illegal to carry folks that do not have the proper papers. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way...
In the case of at least one Algerian migrant, he paid $200 USD (£130 GBP) for his bike when he arrived in Murmansk; that included the taxi ride to the border. The bikes are designed for children & are absolute rubbish. They get the migrants from one border station to the other, but they are too poor quality for the Norwegians to allow them on their roads. They are left at the back of the border post, whilst the migrants are bussed to the nearby town of Kirkenes. Every couple of days, a hundred or so brand-new cycles get carted off to be crushed.
Nov 18 update:
The Guardian newspaper reported that Masternes Gjenvinning (the scrapyard and recycling company employed by the Norwegian government to dispose of the bikes) had scrapped 3,500 bicycles (link is in Norwegian).
A couple of months ago I noticed that large numbers of spiders were appearing in my home. That is normal for Autumn, but seemed a bit early this year.
Wildlife often shows greater sensitivity to weather than we have. I think that the Winter is going to be much colder this year.
--------- Alex Kemp