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High life, low crime
Svalbard population tops 2,500 using new count method, rate of crime third lowest in Norway

population by region

Above: Population by region

(click to enlarge)

Below: Population by sex and age

population by sex and age

"More than 2,500 people are listed as living in Svalbard for the first time in more than a decade, with those not registered as residents of Norway's mainland accounting for the increase. And if anyone got a traffic ticket, it was big news.

Population and crime reports released this month by Statistics Norway show 2,565 people in the archipelago as of Jan. 1, 2009, up from 2,449 the previous year. It's the third year of increases since the population was 2,266 in 2006, with this year's total seemingly resulting from a new counting method, but still significantly lower than 3,544 in 1990 due to a sharp drop at Russian settlements.

Crime in Norway last year had the fewest reported incidents since 1994, although the picture wasn't as rosy for Svalbard. A total of 114 Svalbard incidents were reported to police, the most since 2002 except for the 125 incidents reported in 2004. But the ratio of 44.44 crimes per 1,000 residents is the lower than all but two of 27 other districts in Norway. Also, while drug arrests and traffic citations may be common in big cities, there were only two of the former and 10 of the latter in Svalbard.

The current totals are the first collected by the agency using the Population Register of Svalbard, created in the summer of 2008 using the same structure as Norway's Central Population Register. In Norwegian settlements the new register includes all people registering for a "D-number" intending to stay at least six months, according to Øivind Rustad, senior executive officer for Norway's Division for Population Statistics. Previous counts for Norwegian settlements included only those registered both in a municipality in mainland Norway and as a resident at Svalbard, not foreign nationals.

"Hence, the total population in the table seemingly has increased somewhat, although the Russian settlements' population has decreased," he wrote in an e-mail interview. "In reality it has not increased, but we have earlier not had any information on this (foreign nationals) group."

The change means Statistics Norway will publish a more extensive amount of data about the area, including a "This Is Svalbard" report awaiting final approval and scheduled for public release in May or June.

Svalbard's population of mainland Norway residents is 1,792, down from 1,821 in 2008. There are 293 non-mainland residents in Norwegian settlements, 470 in the Russian settlement of Barentsburg and 10 at the Polish settlement of Hornsund. The Norwegian settlements have increased from 1,125 in 1990, while the Russian settlement population has declined from 2,407.

More than half of the residents in the Norwegian settlements arrived after 2004, with only 10 here since the 1960s. The average residency length is six years. While 140 people have never lived outside Svalbard, more than 60 percent are below school age and the oldest are about 30 years old. The population of men ages 25 to 59 and women ages 25 to 44 is notably higher than mainland settlements, as is the male ratio of Svalbard's population at 58.1 percent.

That ratio is even more unbalanced among those from Norwegian municipalities since there are more women than men among the foreign nationals from 36 countries. Nearly a third of foreigners are from Thailand and 70 percent of them are women. The next largest foreigner totals include 92 from Sweden, 43 from Germany and 26 from Russia.

The 386,251 criminal offenses reported to police in Norway in 2008 is a 3 percent decline from the previous year, with an 8 percent decrease in drug crimes and aggravated larcenies, 7 percent drop in auto thefts and 5.1 percent drop in traffic misdemeanors cited as significant factors. The total represents a general decline since 437,250 offenses were reported in 2002 and is the lowest since 385,446 were reported in 1996.

Comparable Svalbard data is incomplete due to different collection methods until last year, but the 2008 total is significantly higher than the 84 offenses reported in 2007. The overall trend, however, is more even.

"The yearly rate of offenses reported to the police committed in Svalbard varies, (but is) relatively stable around 100 during these last seven years," wrote Sigmund B. Mohn, senior executive officer of Norway's Group for Crime Statistics, in an e-mail. "The main group of offenses is offenses for profit, followed by a relatively large share in the 'other' category."

Crimes reported in Svalbard in 2008 include 42 offenses for profit (up from 29 in 2007), one economic offense (down from six), six offenses of violence (up from three), one sexual offense (down from two), two narcotics offenses (up from one), 10 traffic offenses (down from 18), three incidents of property damage (up from one), six environmental offenses (up from four), six work environment offenses (up from none) and 35 "other" offenses (up from 20).

Norway averaged 81.5 offenses per 1,000 residents, with the highest ratios being 147.9 in Oslo, 99.2 in Telemark and 96.6 in Vestfold. The lowest were 41.7 in Sogn/Fjordane and 44.1 in Sunnmøre. An official total was not provided for Svalbard due to the different population registers, although the figures now being collected will be used to provide that information during the coming year.

Additional reports and information is available at http://www.ssb.no/svalbard_en.

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