Norway to halt refugee influx

Bookmark and Share

The vast majority of refugees who’ve been streaming into Norway over its northern border to Russia don’t qualify for asylum and will be sent back, either to Russia or their homelands, government officials stressed on Tuesday. Jøran Kallmyr, state secretary in the Justice Ministry, says most of the roughly 4,000 asylum seekers who’ve already arrived from Russia will likely be deported as well.

Jøran Kallmyr, a state secretary for the Progress Party in the Justice Ministry, wanted to get the message out on Tuesday that Norway intends to halt the influx of asylum seekers over the Russian border. After registering only 10 asylum seekers arriving at the far northern border last year, the numbers have exploded to more than 4,000 this year. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Jøran Kallmyr, a state secretary for the Progress Party in the Justice Ministry, wanted to get the message out on Tuesday that Norway intends to halt the influx of asylum seekers over the Russian border. After registering only 10 asylum seekers arriving at the far northern border last year, the numbers have exploded to more than 4,000 this year, and Kallmyr said the scale of the influx can’t continue. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Some have already agreed to return to Russia voluntarily, and Kallmyr told foreign correspondents in Oslo that around 60 have been returned already, including some Syrians who held residence permission in Russia.

“We count Russia as a safe country, and we do not grant asylum to any Russian citizen,” said Kallmyr of the Progress Party. That means people crossing into Norway who had been admitted into Russia won’t qualify for asylum in Norway. If their papers show that they’ve been expelled from Russia, Kallmyr said Norway will then return them to their home countries.

‘Almost all’ now from Afghanistan
He said “almost all” of those now crossing the border into Norway are from Afghanistan. They will also be returned, if not to Russia, to Afghanistan. Even though it won’t be possible to put rejected Afghan refugees on chartered flights direct from Kirkenes to Kabul, because the Afghan government won’t grant landing rights to such flights, Norway will use regularly chartered flights to return the Afghan citizens. “Afghanistan is obliged to take back their own citizens,” Kallmyr said.

Among measures agreed on by government ministers to tighten Norwegian asylum procedures is a demand that any country accepting foreign aid from Norway must go along with the return of their own citizens. Afghanistan continues to receive hundreds of millions of kroner worth of aid every year, Kallmyr noted. Even though his own government has proposed cutting aid to Afghanistan and many other countries, to help cover the costs of refugees now in Norway, he wouldn’t rule out some bargaining, with an offer to restore some of the cuts in return for Afghanistan more quickly repatriating refugees.

Moving beyond scare tactics
Norway’s government is clearly going farther than simply issuing scare tactics in the hopes of dissuading migrants for using the so-called “Arctic Route” through Russia. “We want to prevent people from quitting their jobs (in Russia), selling almost everything they own, paying smugglers and trying to come to Norway for a better life,” he said, repeating that only those with a “real need for protection” will be allowed to stay, and even then, only temporarily. If conditions improve in their home country, they’ll eventually be sent back.

While Kallmyr met with foreign correspondents, to spread news of the country’s tougher asylum procedures, Prime Minister Erna Solberg was proposing a string of new measures in Parliament, not least to more quickly deport unsucessful asylum seekers. A new law allowing for rapid evaluation of asylum applications and a much shorter appeals process may take effect as soon as next week.

“Today’s immigration laws are not designed for the situation we find ourselves in today,” Solberg said. “We want a system that will quickly handle cases involving people who’ve had legal residence in Russia, and return them quickly. We have a return agreement with Russia and we assume they (the Russians) will abide by it.” She confirmed that anyone expelled from Russia who doesn’t qualify for asylum in Norway will then be sent back to their land of origin, for example, Afghanistan.

Syrians still have preference
Kallmyr said only Syrians who’ve been expelled from Russia are likely to be able to stay in Norway. The Norwegian government won’t send anyone back to Syria at present, on the grounds it has “no safe places” because of its ongoing civil war.

If Syrians voluntarily gave up “safe haven” in Russia and came to Norway only to seek a better life, however, they’ll likely be returned to Russia. The government believes, however, that there are “safe places” in Afghanistan and Iraq, making their citizens deportable.

Order out of chaos
As hundreds more would-be refugees crossed into Norway this week, Norwegian officials were also set to open a new “arrival center” on Wednesday in hastily remodeled military barracks at the Kirkenes airport. The plan is to create order out of the current refugee chaos in the far northern county of Finnmark, and keep asylum seekers together in order to more easily send them back to Russia or their homelands.

After their initial interviews with police at the border, where they’ll be warned that asylum will be difficult to obtain, they’ll be driven to the arrival center where they can register themselves in 23 different languages. They’ll be required to change from the clothes they’re wearing to state-issued clothing, their own clothes will be frozen for 48 hours to prevent the spread of any disease, and they’ll be taken to a local hospital for a health exam. Then they’ll be driven back to the barracks where they’ll be issued one of around 300 bunk beds. People found to be ill will be placed in an isolated area for people with contagious diseases.

They’ll only be housed there for a few days, before likely being sent back to Russia, or to another asylum center in Norway if their applications qualify for additional review.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund