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My grandfather originated from Hammerfest in Norway. Once renowned for being the northernmost town in the world, the fact he was born there doesn’t cut much ice with anyone beyond the family circle, these days. Let alone the Arctic Circle. But, from time to time, it does lead me to examining newspaper articles conveying the impression they are being reported directly from the region. After all’s said and done, it’s kind of my neck of the woods.
One such article appeared into today’s Guardian under the title Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle. To judge from the snowy photo fronting the piece, and the backdrop he literally conjures up, we can suppose Patrick Kingsley battled against snowstorms to dispatch news of masses of Syrian refugees crossing the icy frontier that separates Russia from Norway. On the Norwegian side of the border the town of Kirkenes has seen a rise in their number, according to Superintendent Thomas Pettersen of the Kirkenes police department. He was “…the only policeman on duty in Kirkenes police station on Saturday” we are informed by Kingsley. You can almost hear the disapproving tone with which the words were written, as though there should have been more officers on duty to prevent the incursions. But what Superintendent Pettersen tells the Guardian’s portentously-titled migration correspondent puts things into more realistic perspective: “You can say that maybe about five to 20 people try it a month. There have been a couple of people who have tried by bicycle. The rest are being driven over in Russian cars. It’s very easy for them to cross – they can just sit in a Russian car, and come into Norway. And it’s legal.” So it’s just like anybody else with a passport crossing a border then? As so few refugees reach Norway in this way, and it’s completely legal, perhaps it isn’t considered quite such a big deal by the Norwegian authorities. But, hey, why make a fuss when you can turn it into a crisis?
Filling in the background, the intrepid Kingsley informs us: “… the average daily temperature hovers just below freezing.” It’s enough to make you shiver. But, hold your horses, as one who has actually spent some in Arctic Norway during August, things are not half as bad as the snowbound picture Kingsley paints. Last time I was there during most of the summer of 2000, there was one balmy August afternoon I had to take my shirt off, before playing volleyball, it was so hot. We were on a sandy beach in the Lofoten Isles. Bathers frolicked in the sea like it was the Mediterranean. Soaking up the sun’s rays, we grilled chicken pieces over a barbecue while wiping rivulets of sweat from our brows and knocking back iced beers. My Norwegian friends told me it was pretty normal for that time of year. I recount it here: Arctic Life can be a Real Beach. Some days were chilly, to be sure, but then I’ve spent August holidays camping in North Wales. It can get more than a bit nippy there, I can tell you. Truth is, I can’t recall one single day where temperatures ‘hovered’ just above freezing, let alone just below it, during my Arctic summer.
Though well north of the Arctic Circle, Kirkenes actually lies to the south of Hammerfest, where temperatures are predicted to reach 16°C (61°F) later today, as they are in Kirkenes. As I write, temperatures in London, stand at 18°C (64°F). The difference between them being a matter of a couple of degrees, neither could be described as hovering “just below freezing”. But it doesn’t stop there, Kingsley goes on to say: “According to Sør-Varanger Avis, a local newspaper, 133 asylum-seekers have used this method in 2015, most of whom are Syrians.” But the link actually leads to a newspaper only calling itself the Local with a capital ‘L’. And that ‘local’ newspaper turns out to be not nearly so local after all. Based in Stockholm in Sweden – about 1,000 miles south of Kirkenes – the Local describes itself as “the largest English-language news network in Europe”.
The real Sør-Varanger Avis is a local newspaper in Kirkenes written in Norwegian for Norwegians. However, instead of the Syrian refugee story today’s edition leads with a tale about refugee squirrels, as you can see here. The squirrels keep seeking refuge in Svanvik church, and each time they get evicted. As the church is right on the border with Russia I can see from where the confusion stems. Despite the squirrels being red, it isn’t clear whether they are Russian squirrels coming across the border or not. As far I can tell from the internet version – and I do speak some Norwegian – Sør-Varanger Avis has not published any story on Syrian refugees crossing the border in Kirkenes in recent days. Or Syrian squirrels, for that matter.
We have had to adjust ourselves for the growing number of inaccuracies appearing in the mainstream media since just before the start the 21st century. Gross exaggeration and slipshod reporting always played a part in the gutter press, but we expected better from the Guardian. Disgracefully, we have now reached the point where exaggeration has crossed the line to become outright lying across the board. Though I’m sure he would put up a spirited denial, if he can’t be accused of lying, Kingsley can be accused of attempting to deceive by default. Using obfuscation he strives to create impression we are reading a first-hand piece written by someone on the spot in Kirkenes. Certainly, he does little or nothing to disavow us of that impression. Quite the reverse, by mentioning the weather he lends it credence. The fact he hasn’t the slightest clue about something that should be visible from a hotel window only goes to prove it.
The Syrian refugee crisis is a real tragedy, caused by Western warmongering in the Middle East over the last few decades. Virtually without exception, the British corporate media has supported Western interventions with an enthusiasm rarely seen outside of totalitarian states in former times. The Guardian has been up there in the vanguard.
In order for us to understand the true gravity of the refugee problem, and obtain the wherewithal to solve it, we need verifiable facts, not second-hand accounts garnered through third parties. After all, many refugees escaping the death and destruction successive British governments have only been only too willing to wreak – in cahoots with our NATO partners and other dubious allies – will be forced through circumstance to come and live among us. To the largest extent they will be supported by our hospitality and generosity, not by the Guardian’s or the government’s. They do not need this type of negative slant adding to their misery.
To my mind, there is little doubt some desperate Syrians have made their way north to cross the border separating Russia from Norway, nevertheless, the motives for the Guardian publishing the story as though the newspaper had a man on the ground are questionable, given the newspaper’s unambiguous hostility towards Russia, and the animosity it constantly expresses towards Bashar al-Assad.
But like much of the corporate media, the former left-leaning newspaper is now caught in a trap of its own making. From this article, regular readers will find it difficult to tell what the Guardian’s standpoint on refugees and immigration is. As the paper’s own lack of backbone and principles could be said to have contributed towards rather too many wars, with their resultant crises, perhaps the publication should start giving us a few answers. We might wonder why the article contains no information on Norway’s position regarding Syrian refugees. As Norway is a member of NATO but not of the EU, how will that affect the rest of Europe? Will Britain be accepting any Syrian refugees from Norway? Is the Guardian against the Russians letting Syrian refugees into Norway? Or is it against Syrian refugees? Is it against Syria or Isis? Where does it stand on the refugee crisis per se? Is it against immigration into the EU? or is it for it? Is it for the bombardment of Syria, which must be partly responsible the mass exodus, or has it turned against it, after being in favour before? Is it for Turkey’s involvement in the bombing of Isis in Syria? If so, does that extend to Turkey bombing Kurdish separatists? And would that include Syrian Kurds? Instead of that we are treated to a patchwork of meaningless waffle, a large portion of which has been gleaned from social media and uncheckable sources, presumably from behind a desk in London. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! Sir Walter Scott.
Copyright © 2015 Bryan Hemming
In direct contrast to the Guardian story, the Independent took another line on the plight of those seeking refuge from war in the Middle East and North Africa. In treating needy refugees like invaders, we risk losing our humanity by Robert Fisk shows the completely different attitudes towards refugee crises that has been displayed in relatively recent times.
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