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Photos Capture Syrian Refugees On Polar Route From Russia To Norway

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/11/2015 Sara Elkamel

There is a new migration route to Europe that is safer and less expensive than the ones through the Balkans or across the Mediterranean: the Arctic route. 

Roughly 1,200 migrants and refugees have made a one-way bike trip across the Russia-Norway border, escaping the barbed-wire fences, strict border police and other hardships that others have faced on their way to European countries. 

The International Organization for Migration estimates that 680,000 refugees and migrants have made their way to Europe by sea this year, and according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 3,400 people have died or gone missing en route to Europe.

Photographer Alessandro Iovino of the Cesura collective followed the Syrian Alsaid family on their journey from Russia to Norway.

The Arctic route is used primarily by Syrians who first took refuge in Russia following political turbulence in 2011. Now, they are forced to flee for a second time for different reasons, including fear of forced repatriation, pressure from the Russian mafia or simply in search of better economic circumstances. 

Other refugees traveled to Russia years ago from countries like Jordan and Egypt, or just arrived in Russia on a tourist visa

The journey to Europe often starts in cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. From there, the refugees travel to Murmansk, which is located in the far north of the country and just 32 kilometers from the Barents Sea, near Russia's border with Norway. 

Some refugees have enough funds for the expensive taxi ride from the Murmansk airport to Kirkenes in Norway. Others spend a couple of days in hotels like the Park Inn or Azimut in Murnmansk before they head by bus or taxi to Nickel, in Russia's Siberia, near the Norwegian border. 

There, they buy secondhand bicycles -- which can cost between $150 and $200 -- to make the last stretch to Norway. Only 50 meters separate the last Russian checkpoint and the European border, but a law prohibits crossing them on foot.

Once they've reached Kirkenes, the refugees leave the bicycles by the side of the road. Thus ends a voyage that costs roughly $2,000. 

While the trip is less dangerous than the Mediterranean route, it is not without hazards.

Smugglers sometimes try to extort the refugees or keep them on Russian soil longer than necessary -- often until immediately before their visas expire.

Follow the Alsaids on their way in Iovina's powerful photos: 

This story originally appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

Related on HuffPost: 

Chilling Photos Of What Refugees Left Behind At Lesbos Beach

A Thousand Miles In Their Shoes: Traveling With Refugees For Three Weeks

Heart-Wrenching Photos Show Rescued Refugees Arriving In Lesbos

Despite Falling Temperatures, Refugee Arrivals In Europe Keep Rising

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