Unsuccessful Syrian applicants for asylum in Norway are still being sent back to their homeland despite the recent government violence against the civilian population and pro-democracy protests there.
Denmark has already temporarily stopped the return of asylum seekers back to Syria – but the Norwegian Immigration Appeals Board (Utlendingsnemnda, UNE) will not do the same. The board has recently stopped returns to Yemen, the Ivory Coast and Libya, while the foreign ministry has advised Norwegian nationals not to travel to Syria unless absolutely necessary.
“The situation is still that individual evaluations will be done,” UNE’s Bjørn Lyster told newspaper Aftenposten. “Some Syrian asylum seekers will receive decisions that entail permission for further leave to remain in Norway, while others will receive decisions that mean they must return.” Lyster confirmed nonetheless that an evaluation of the security situation in the country would be ongoing, stating that “the decisive factor is whether the general security situation deteriorates so that individual evaluations cannot be done because it has become so dangerous that no one should longer be returned there.”
UNE director Terje Skjeggestad later added to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “we will at all costs avoid sending anyone back to persecution or great danger of losing their life.”
11 sent back in March
Opposition has already been expressed against UNE’s position. Mohamad Jaman, a Norwegian Syrian who is also a politician for the Labour Party, has maintained close contact with family and opposition politicians in Syria, and believes Norway’s view of the situation is too positive. Over Easter, Jaman sent a letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg asking that he do more to condemn the violence and consider stopping the forced return of asylum seekers. He has not received a reply and told newspaper Aftenposten that he remains concerned about a number of recently returned asylum seekers.
One of Jaman’s friends, Blal Ali Blal, was sent back to Syria a couple of weeks ago, and “he has not come home.” Jaman does not know “whether he is scared or on the run or in hiding, or whether he has been taken.” A family with small children was also deported in recent weeks. The foreign ministry told NRK that 11 people had been sent back to Syria during March.
“The whole country is a military camp,” commented Jaman in Aftenposten. “People are injured and disappear because they are suspected for having taken part in demonstrations, but it can be enough just to walk onto the street to be hurt or arrested,” he added.
Jaman was joined in his protests by the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS). Speaking to NRK, general secretary Ann-Magritt Austenå suggested that many of those sent back to the country were likely to be known opponents of the regime, and asked for an end to the deportations “because of the dramatic situation we see in Syria.”
The UK and USA are considering sanctions against Syria in light of the recent violent clampdown on pro-democracy protests. On Tuesday, the Norwegian foreign ministry condemned the Syrian authorities “in the strongest possible terms,” and was reported to be considering sanctions and other similar measures, as well as raising the issue in international organizations.