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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