Immigrants and refugees opt to leave

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Refugees who’ve been denied asylum in Norway are opting to leave voluntarily, in record numbers, while other foreigners who’ve been granted permanent residence are leaving as well. Many are moving on after having trouble finding  jobs or running into racism.

The head of Norway’s immigration directorate UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet), Ida Børresen, told news bureau NTB that 1,224 persons have chosen to voluntarily leave Norway during the first eight months of this year, a new record that’s up 20 percent from the same period last year.

Børresen noted that more would-be immigrants from Russia and Iraq have returned to their home countries than there have been new refugees from those countries arriving to seek asylum. There currently are around 12,000 persons waiting for a decision on whether they’ll be granted asylum in Norway, while another 4,500 have been rejected, 1,200 of them children.

Repatriation challenges
UDI runs into two major problems when trying to repatriate asylum seekers: Some come from countries that won’t receive their own citizens if they’re being returned by force by police, and others have tried to conceal their real identity. “Therefore we can’t provide them with proper travel documents,”” Børresen said.

She has no doubt that new economic incentives offered by the state have boosted the rate of voluntary returns. Rejected refugees can receive transport and varying amounts of “start capital” in cash if they leave voluntarily, and more are accepting the offer instead of remaining “stateless” in Norway and unable to work.

‘Everyday racism’
Many other immigrants outside the asylum system are also giving up on Norway after encountering what can only be described as racism or fear of foreigners in Norway. “Everyday racism is, to the highest degree, operative,” Camilo Heredia told King Harald and a large group of top government officials and others at a memorial service last week for slain African-Norwegian Benjamin Hermansen. Heredia was 17 years old when Hermansen was stabbed by two neo-Nazis outside a kiosk in Oslo’s Holmlia district in 2001, and he wrote “Song to Benjamin” at the time.

The men were sentenced to prison terms of 18 and 17 years and around 40,000 Norwegians marched through the streets to protest the stabbing. Heredia worries about all the days when there are no catastrophes, like Hermansen’s murder or the July 22nd terrorist attacks that unleashed a huge outpouring of protest to racist acts as well. Others point out that discrimination in the job and housing markets is widespread, and discouraging for foreigners trying to live and work in Norway.

Newspaper Dagsavisen recently told the story of a Somalian woman with five children who has been forced to move nine times in the past seven years, even though a state welfare program guarantees her rent payments. She’s usually offered only short-term leases on substandard apartments, and meets skeptical landlords. Her children have had to change schools four times.

Lack of inclusion
Cecile Campos of the humanitarian organization Kirkens Bymisjon has run into the problem many times. “In community debate we often hear that immigrants don’t want to integrate, but we see that many are not included,” Campos told Dagsavisen. Now the state is considering measures to punish landlords who discriminate in the housing market. While unemployment among immigrants has declined, from 7.2 percent last year to 6.5 percent this year, unemployment among Norwegians is only 1.9 percent in comparison, according to state statistics bureau SSB.

“We can’t have it like this,” Liv Signe Navarsete, government minister in charge of municipalities, told Dagsavisen. Some immigrants give up and leave, often heading for larger cities in Germany or England where they feel they may fit in more easily. Navarsete seemed to understand why: “We know that it is more difficult to rent a home for someone with an African appearance than it is for someone who is ethnically Norwegian,” she said. It’s already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin or skin color “but it happens anyway,” Navarsete admitted.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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  • I’m a foreigner in Norway and have never witnesses racism, god bless me for that.

    But it’s a pain to hear that racism exists everywhere on this planet and it seems like Norway is no exception.

    • kiwirob

      All depends on what you look like, I know several immigrants of darker color who have a hard time, I’m lilly white and look like a local so nobody looks at me at all.

  • Stewart

    I’ve been traveling the world running marathons on an yearly basis (Great Wall, Prague, Seattle, Frankfurt, Taipei, etc…).

    After spending a week in Israel, a few days in Czech Republic, I came to Oslo this past weekend to participate in the 30th running of the Oslo Marathon (great organization, by the way!), and in the short few days I was here, I was taken by surprise to notice such a global powerhouse being so very ‘color conscious’ – and then to chance upon this article about race & Norway. After all, Norway ranked #1 in United Nation’s 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) with USA 4th, Sweden 9th, France 14th, etc… Four key factors of the HDI index: education, literacy, life expectancy, standard of living.

    I was born in Asia and immigrated to the USA about 30 years ago as a kid. As a young child who dressed differently, did not speak the language, and was utterly unfamiliar with the customs and values of the 1980’s republican USA, just recoiling from the wild period of the 70’s, I was an easy target for just about everything imaginable.

    Needless to say, I know racism comes in many forms: from silent, disapproving looks in the corner of people’s eyes, to the more obvious finger pointing & whispers, and finally to overt racial actions/comments. All of which, I relived this past weekend, as I visited destinations from Holmenkollen to Akershus Festning, the Royal Palace to Fram Museum, and other popular tourist hotspots.

    It is sad to experience such a beautiful land with amazing history and heritage right alongside prevalent racism among its current populous. It only takes a few moldy berries for one to move on to the next batch and never look back.

    As an integral part of this world economy & society, highly ranked in all indicators, no less!, I wonder when Norwegians as a whole will be accepting of the fact that human genetic diversity is what makes this world great….?

  • NightOrDay100

    Stewart: your comment is of interest. In what specific ways did you experience racism during your stay in Norway? Norwegians will generally deny overt and/or covert racism. Some may be unaware that certain gestures are racist. It is even curiouser since you’d said you’d visited tourist-hotspots; it should be reasonable to expect that at such places, being nice to foreign-looking people ought to be taken for granted.

    So: exactly what did you see/notice?