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Home* News and Stories → Coro­na cri­sis: many lost their jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Coro­na cri­sis: many lost their jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The Coro­na virus hits eco­no­mies hard ever­y­whe­re in the world. Lon­gye­ar­by­en is no excep­ti­on and the cur­rent cri­sis gives rise to a phe­no­me­non that has so far been almost unknown up the­re: unem­ploy­ment. Tou­rism and the ser­vice indus­try have lar­ge­ly col­lap­sed and several hund­red peop­le have lost their jobs. Accord­ing to offi­cial sta­tis­tics, the­re were 9 peop­le without jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 10 March, but alrea­dy 261 on 23 March – the stron­gest incre­a­se in all of Nor­way, and the cur­ve is still going up stee­ply. The actu­al num­ber is sup­po­sed to be hig­her, becau­se citi­zens of coun­tries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area (EEA) can not regis­ter as unem­ploy­ed in Nor­way.

The fact that unem­ploy­mentship has been vir­tual­ly unknown in Lon­gyear­ben is not only due to the good eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on. Actual­ly, recent years have seen the col­lap­se of lar­ge parts of the coal mining indus­try and a lot of jobs were lost in this pro­cess. On the other hand, tou­rism and sci­ence have deve­lo­ped posi­tively. But the back­ground is ano­t­her one, which has to do with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which recent­ly beca­me 100 years old: the trea­ty gives citi­zens from signa­to­ry coun­tries the same indi­vi­du­al rights as Nor­we­gi­ans. Ever­y­bo­dy can live and work in Lon­gye­ar­by­en without asking for per­mis­si­on.

But this free­dom has a pri­ce tag: the­re is no social sys­tem that takes care of ever­y­bo­dy. Essen­ti­al­ly, ever­y­bo­dy is respon­si­ble to take care of him- or herself. If you can’t finan­ce you life in Spits­ber­gen, then you have to lea­ve. Five per­sons have been expel­led by the aut­ho­ri­ties sin­ce 2017 becau­se they were not able to sup­port them­sel­ves finan­cial­ly. Four out of the­se five were expel­led befo­re 2020, so the­re is no con­nec­tion to the recent cri­sis.

In other words: if you can’t afford to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en then you are not going to stay long, so the­re has not been unem­ploy­ment on any signi­fi­cant level until recent­ly. If you nee­ded public sup­port, then you had to rely on the social sys­tems of your home coun­try, many of which may not sup­port citi­zens living abroad or only to a degree that will not make much of a dif­fe­rence as Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a very expen­si­ve place.

This is, in princip­le, not going to chan­ge: Nor­way is gene­ral­ly neit­her obli­ged nor wil­ling to take respon­si­bi­li­ty for citi­zens of third coun­tries who are get­ting in dif­fi­cul­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. On the other hand, the cur­rent situa­ti­on is acu­te. Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a very inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on. The­re is, for examp­le, a signi­fi­cant num­ber of peop­le from Thai­land who came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en years ago to live and work the­re. Many have typi­cal­ly jobs in restau­rants or other ser­vice indus­tries that have now col­lap­sed. Many can hard­ly expect much sup­port from their ori­gi­nal home coun­tries, and retur­ning the­re may also not be an opti­on easi­ly avail­ab­le to ever­yo­ne as many have given up the­re homes the­re years ago, plus the impos­si­bi­li­ty to tra­vel any­whe­re the­se days.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Coro­na-cri­sis: dark times, even though it does not get dark any­mo­re in rea­li­ty and the sun will soon shi­ne 24 hours a day.

So the­re are many peop­le now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who don’t have an inco­me. The­re are esti­ma­tes of near 300 peop­le. Mea­su­res are taken now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Lokals­ty­re) to offer public help to citi­zens from third coun­tries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area. The­se mea­su­res come with a time limi­ted, but the­re is clear­ly need for action right now. In the future, com­pa­nies in Lon­gye­ar­by­en may have to install social insuran­ce sys­tems for their non-Nor­we­gi­an employees, but right now the pre­sent situa­ti­on needs to be dealt with. The­re have alrea­dy been pri­va­te aid appeals for fami­lies in dif­fi­cul­ties, espe­cial­ly for peop­le who moved to Lon­gye­ar­by­en less than 6 mon­ths ago becau­se they are sup­por­ted only for 20 days in the cur­rent Coro­na cri­sis packa­ge by the Nor­we­gi­an government. Tho­se who have been in Lon­gye­ar­by­en more than half a year will be sup­por­ted until 20 June.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re (com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil) has app­lied for 178.5 mil­li­on kro­ner from the Government in Oslo to sup­port the local eco­no­my. This may inclu­de goods and orders that can be deli­ve­r­ed quick­ly by local com­pa­nies, finan­cial reli­ef for inha­bi­tants by cut­ting fees for examp­le for water, power and long-distance hea­ting, all of which is very expen­si­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and to com­pen­sa­te for los­ses expec­ted in the eco­no­my of the com­mu­ni­ty. Just the can­cel­la­ti­ons by lar­ge crui­se ships for this year will pro­bab­ly cost more than 20 mil­li­on kro­ner in har­bour fees that will be lost.

Just as any­whe­re in the world, nobo­dy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has got an idea when and how the situa­ti­on will nor­ma­li­se again.

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last modification: 2020-04-09 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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