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The people of Svalbard

Our guide to the tough, resolute and fascinating people who call Longyearbyen, Svalbard, home. Part of our Svalbard special.


The Governor

A lot of what happens in Svalbard goes through the Sysselmann, or local government, whose main jobs are upholding the archipelago’s brutally strict environmental laws and acting as the local police. Odd Olsen Ingerø is serving a second term as governor – he was in charge from 2001-2005, and came back in 2009.

Like many, Svalbard had long held a fascination for Odd, who spent 20 years as the chief of police in Kirkenes, on the northern tip of the mainland. “I’d heard about this place since I was a kid,” he says. “I had a longing for the north, and first applied for a job here in 1982.” Like many people we speak to, he prefers the darkness to the midnight sun. “In Kirkenes, the darkness isn’t complete – you can sit and read a paper in the middle of the day. You can’t do that here.”

The main part of his job, he says, is enforcing one of the strictest environmental laws on the planet, which comes in from the Norwegian government. “It essentially makes all activity illegal,” he says, admitting that Svalbard could be one of the most bureaucratic places on earth. “You need permission for everything, whether it’s snowmobile tours or research. The challenge is to implement the laws so they work for people; for scientists, for commercial activities."

Odd is also effectively the police chief, although there's no prison on the island.


Meet Joachim, the miner

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