Norway’s Green Party has floated proposals to open up a migrant reception centre – in the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, where polar bears outnumber people. The idea was first mooted by Norway’s anti-immigration People’s Party, but they quickly made it clear that their proposal was a joke.
Not so the Green Party, who appear to be absolutely serious. “At a meeting in August, we talked about wanting to take in refugees on Svalbard. Both settlement and a reception centre may be relevant,” Espen Klungseth Rotevatn, leader of the islands’ Green Party branch, told Norway’s Vårt Land newsaper.
Just 2,600 people live on Svalbard, outnumbered by the 3,000 polar bears also inhabiting the islands. Jobs are hard to come by, and last week the coal mining firm Store Norske, one of the main employers in the region announced that they were cutting 150 jobs, The Local has reported.
Rotevatn therefore hopes that a migration centre might boost employment – and help out migrants at the same time. “A reception centre would of course create jobs, but that is a positive side effect of something much more important than coal mining, that’s not our primary concern. Europe is on fire, and now our values and ethical standards are measured,” he said.
However, there are doubts over the practicality of the plan. The only previous proposal to rehouse migrants in the Arctic wasteland came from the NPP, who suggested rehousing 10,000 migrants there.
But they have since made it clear that the suggestion was made in jest. “In my statement, I put it rather bluntly, to show that there was no capacity to cater for so many in such a short time,” Christian Eikeland of NPP in Agder told Vårt Land.
Nonetheless, the Green Party have approached the governor of Svalbard to request that he make enquiries into the legality of such a proposal, as Svalbard has special status within Norway rather than being recognised as a county.
“Among other things, Svalbard is not part of Schengen, so we must know whether it is formally and practically possible,” Rotevatn said.