MOSCOW Moscow does not want to take back refugees who crossed into Norway from Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday in a dispute over 5,400 migrants that Oslo wants to deport.
Norway's right-wing government toughened policies for asylum seekers in December and wants to send back those who crossed the Arctic border from Russia, saying Russia is safe for them.
"The talk is about people who arrived in Russia with a purpose of either to work in Russia or to visit relatives," Lavrov told an annual news conference. "They had not declared their (true) purpose of visit as transit to Norway."
"This means that they had deliberately stated false data about the purpose of their visit to the Russian Federation. This is why we do not want to admit these people back to Russia."
Norway said it had contacted Russia's Foreign Ministry after Lavrov's comments and secured assurances that Moscow was still open to taking back at least some of 5,400 asylum seekers who crossed last year, many from Syria.
"Russia has always said they are not interested in taking back most of the 5,400 refugees," ministry spokesman Rune Bjaastad said.
"But we have an understanding with Russia that we can send back those who have a valid visa and residency in Russia," he said.
Norway sent a bus to Russia last week carrying 13 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. About 31,000 migrants arrived in Norway last year across all borders.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Joachim Dagenborg in Oslo; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Alister Doyle; Editing by Lidia Kelly and Ralph Boulton)