Majority welcomes refugees to Norway

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A new survey shows that an absolute majority of Norwegians support plans to take in at least 8,000 refugees from Syria, and many think a still-wealthy country like Norway should take in far more. The survey sends a strong signal to politicians advocating restrictive policies, as does social media response to recent spontaneous efforts to help those arriving.

The survey, conducted by research firm Respons for newspaper Aftenposten, showed that 63 percent of those questioned were positive to the Parliament’s approval of the plan to accept 8,000 UN-registered refugees from the war in Syria. Earlier surveys have shown a much smaller majority, while now only 25 percent are negative and 12 percent claim they have no opinion.

Meanwhile, more than 14,000 Norwegians have indicated support via social media for volunteer efforts that have been springing up in Oslo to offer food, clothing and toys for refugees and their children. “We’re seeing that the Norwegian people … support assistance for those hit by the biggest and worst war in a generation,” Jan Egeland, a former UN special envoy on refugees issues who now heads the refugee aid group Flyktninghjelpen, told Aftenposten.

Grass-roots effort
Ordinary Norwegians recently have been demonstrating their desire to help refugees by taking direct action themselves. “Of course we wanted to take part in this,” said Esben Holmboe Bang, who owns Norway’s only restaurant with two Michelin stars, while handing out food prepared by his cooks at Maaemo in the grass-roots effort outside the police station in Oslo’s Tøyen district that registers new asylum seekers. Bang and several other restaurant owners started preparing and serving food to refugees after fellow restaurant entrepreneurs Jan Vardøen and Nevzat Arikan joined an initiative to welcome and feed the growing numbers of hungry people waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. Around 20 restaurants are now involved in the relief effort.

Scores of others have been delivering clothing, toys and household items to the transit centers where new asylum seekers are housed in Oslo before being sent to other asylum centers around the country. In the transit centers, families are usually kept together in one room with bunk beds lining the walls, while those arriving individually share similar rooms with others. Among them are record numbers of young refugees in their teens who’ve been sent, often by frantic parents, in hopes of finding a better life outside their violent homelands. Most of them are coming from Afghanistan. Like many from Iraq as well, a majority claim they are fleeing recruitment or death at the hands of Islamic extremists in the Taliban or IS.

“The people here are normal folks who have been through an extreme situation,” Hugo Limskjære, leader of a transit center in Oslo’s Torshov district, told Aftenposten. Among those interviewed over the weekend were a pharmacist from Damascus who arrived with her three sons, and a Sunni Muslim family of four from Iraq who finally fled after years of war. “I’m 37 years old and experienced the war between Iraq and Iran and between Iraq and the US, and live went on,” father Osama Ayad told Aftenposten. “But this time it’s a war against people (in IS) who want to turn Iraqis into animals.” They still face great uncertainty in Norway, but expressed gratitude for the help received so far.

Struck a nerve
The refugees’ harrowing journeys and the sheer numbers of them arriving have clearly struck a nerve, according to Vardøen, also known as a musician, author and film director in addition to owning popular restaurants such as Villa Paradiso and Nighthawks Diner. He called the support for the food donations and all the help streaming in, also from some grocery store chains, “heartwarming,” adding that “it just shows that the politicians are out of touch with what the people really want and feel.”

Sturla Stålsett, chairman of Norway’s cooperative forum for volunteer groups (Frivillighet Norge), called the grass-roots support being shown for refugees “a spontaneous expression of people’s kindness and mercy.” At the same time, however, Oslo city officials requested and were granted permission to only be obliged to settle 720 Syrian refugees in Oslo, down from the 811 they’d agreed to earlier. The reduction, reported newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday, was in line with the Parliament’s compromise on 8,000 total UN-registered Syrian refugees over the next three years, down from initial proposals for 10,000.

Norway’s conservative government coalition has, however, settled more refugees so far this year than in the two previous years combined. Solveig Horne, the government minister from the otherwise immigrant-skeptical Progress Party who’s in charge of integration, could report that local communities had agreed as of August 1 to take in 9,858 refugees and 4,986 were already settled by the end of July. That’s 22 percent more than at the same time last year.

New calls were issued on Monday that the refugees themselves should be able to decide where in Norway they want to live if and when their asylum applications are approved. Officials have long feared that the majority would want to settle in the country’s largest cities, however, and therefore assign them to specific communities in an effort to spread settlement around the country. The refugee issue is high on the agenda of political campaigns in the run-up to municipal elections on September 14.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • jamesnorway77

    What a load of utter rubbish oh so this survey (properly taken in the canteen at VG) is supposed to reflect the views of the Norwegians is it???
    Well I can tell you I can’t find a single Norwegian who supports this NOT ONE!!
    Everyone I have spoken to shares the same opinion that its a bad idea it will put a strain on local resources and the money could be far better spent in the refugee camps.

    • inquisitor

      I have yet to speak to a Norwegian that supports it.
      They all think immigration should be stopped.

      • richard albert

        Of course you have not. You would spend your life looking.
        Your Diogenes’ lamp would run out of snus before you would find a significant
        number. But if some perky little turkey with a clip board walks up to Nils on
        his way home from Vinmonopolet he may say otherwise. jamesnorway77 is correct,
        it is undoubtedly rubbish. But even rather carefully and fairly crafted surveys
        are problematic. Courts of law routinely toss them out. The reason most
        Norwegians candidly oppose it is very obvious. It is not a populous country; it
        has a robust but vulnerable economy and its social system relies heavily on a
        tradition of pulling one’s own weight. Moreover, a fairly well documented
        antipathy exists on the part employers even towards immigrants who possess good
        credentials, decent language skills, and a willingness to become part of the
        system. Therefore any shred of hope for the first and even second generation of
        immigrants becoming a part of, or contributing to a society which relies on
        contribution is lost. Norwegians are not stupid and they know this full well.
        Brekkvang is also correct – if you are going to help, help them elsewhere (if
        you can). The UK has a long history of absorbing immigrants from the Commonwealth
        and before that, the Empire. Its knees are now buckling. The US is a vast
        immigrant nation but the backlash against (illegal) immigration is the great
        wedge issue of the day. Our dear little Norway cannot absorb significant
        numbers, no matter how great her humanitarian instincts. When you reach the
        point of being unable to help yourself, you can’t help anyone else. Wait and
        see.

  • Gabrielle Bekkvang

    Take a look at other cities With large numbers of islamic immigrants. There is kaos where even the police will not go into ‘their’ neibourhoods. We should help them where they are!!

  • Gabrielle Bekkvang

    where does News in English get their info??