Progress Party sends a message to refugees: ‘Live like Norwegians!’

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Norway’s most conservative party is proposing new criteria for approval of refugees’ applications for asylum in Norway: Dress like Norwegians, communicate in Norwegian, get a job, respect Norwegian culture and attitudes, don’t exploit welfare programs and stay out of trouble with the police.

The spokesman for the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) on immigration issues, Morten Ørsal Johansen, thinks it’s important to demand that asylum seekers adapt to the country where they hope to live. He and party colleagues have published a long list of proposed criteria (external link, in Norwegian) for granting asylum on Frp’s website, including extending the current three-year residence period required for all foreign immigrants seeking permanent residence (oppholdstillatelse) to six years.

The measures being put forward in the Norwegian Parliament would apply to all immigrants from countries outside the European Economic Area, not just asylum seekers, although the latter group is who Johansen specifically targets both on the party’s website and in an interview with newspaper Dagbladet on Wednesday. “It’s a fact that many asylum seekers don’t want to become a part of Norwegian society,” Johansen told Dagbladet. He said they shouldn’t be granted permanent resident status in Norway.

Johansen’s claims come despite recent reports of how the vast majority of immigrants in Norway do adapt, learn to communicate in Norwegian, study and find work like most Norwegians do and, not least, now feel more accepted and included in the country.

Frp’s demands also come amidst reports this week that immigration authorities are reducing capacity at several asylum centers around the country, and even closing one in Arendal, because of a sharp decline in the numbers of refugees arriving in Norway.

No work, no asylum
Johansen nonetheless has hammered out Frp’s various demands with party colleagues Gjermund Hagesæter and Åge Starheim, and Dagbladet reported that they have the full support of both Frp’s leadership and its block of representatives in the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget).

Johansen offered a few examples of who he and his party colleagues think should be denied asylum: “A woman who refuses to accept a job because it means she can’t use her burka while at work, should accept the consequences of that decision. Those who won’t work shouldn’t get asylum either.”

Johansen also implied that foreigners take advantage of Norway’s welfare system and, for example, fail to make child support payments. He proposes that all those seeking permanent residence status, a requirement for those who later choose to apply for Norwegian citizenship, must repay any excessive welfare funds they’ve received and make any payments they owe before being granted residence.

They must also, among other demands, pass an exam to prove their Norwegian language skills and knowledge of Norwegian life and society. Several such requirements for citizenship already exist.

He and his colleagues concede in their proposals to the parliament that responsibility for integration lies with both Norwegian society and immigrants. “It is indisputable that Norwegian society has a considerable responsibility for integration,” they wrote, “but the biggest responsibility lies with the utlending (foreigner).”

‘Lost its grip’
Inga Marte Thorkildsen, the government minister in charge of integration issues, said she frankly thinks Frp has lost its grip on reality. Thorkildsen, from the Socialist Left party (SV) that’s at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Frp, claimed that many of Johansen’s own claims are simply untrue.

“I, for example, have never heard that foreign citizens owe more child support payments than Norwegian men,” Thorkildsen said. She also believes that an implied ban on the use of burkas or other forms of religious or ethnic dress would cause problems for efforts to make immigrants feel included.

Lise Christoffersen of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) dismissed Frp’s demands as the latest in a long line of what she calls Frp initiatives that aren’t serious. “I think it’s more of what we usually hear from those quarters, and that they’re stirring many things into a populistic porridge,” Christoffersen said, adding that Frp is “totally breaking away” from the “western values of human rights and humanity.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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