Asylum seekers facing freezing temperatures find refuge in Arctic Norway church

Three asylum seekers have sought refuge in a local church in Arctic Norway, after a bus-load of migrants were returned to Russia on Tuesday.

A reception centre for asylum seekers in Kirkenes, northern Norway, where temperatures are currently -25 celsius.Reuters

Norway's right wing government has started to use busses to move asylum seekers across its Arctic border with Russia. They have defended the move by saying that some of the 31,000 who arrived in Norway last year did not qualify for protection, and they needed to be returned to ensure a fair system.

Two men and a woman arrived at a Protestant church in Kirkenes on Thursday and "asked for asylum from the church," Jessem Dervola, an administrator at the Soer-Varanger parish told Reuters.

Police are present outside the church, where the current temperature is -25 degrees celsius.

The local church authorities plan to meet today to decide what action to take, Dervola said.

On Tuesday evening a bus carrying 13 single men to the Russian border left the reception centre at Kirkenes, immigration police confirmed.

This has been criticised by the UN, which said the move was likely to be in breach of the UN refugee convention.

"They can end up in a no man's land where they risk freezing to death," said Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's regional coordinator for the refugee crisis in Europe, last week. "There are large cracks in the Russian asylum system. We believe Norway is wrong to regard Russia as a safe country for people who need protection."

The authorities gave the refugees only hours between being told their applications for asylum had been rejected and their deportation, with no chance to appeal, according to Halvor Frihagen, a migration lawyer in Oslo.

"I do not know of any similar deportations since the Nazi occupation of Norway during the war, when Jews were arrested and given no opportunity to appeal. It is the most serious situation since that time," Frihagen told the Guardian.

In the face of potential deportation, asylum seekers in Norway have turned to drastic action to avoid police.

Around 40 people fled an asylum centre in Vadso "because they heard that the police had come to the centre and they are afraid," explained an unnamed asylum seeker at the Oscarsgata asylum centre.

"We haven't slept well these past few months because we think the police can come at any moment and take us."

The asylum seekers at the same centre said they had started a hunger strike in protest of their treatment and lack of communication.