New Year speeches stressed integration

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Both King Harald V and Prime Minister Erna Solberg stressed the importance of inclusion and “everyday integration” in their annual New Year’s speeches, after around 31,000 asylum seekers arrived in Norway during 2015. King Harald even resorted to citing the childhood literary heroine Pippi Longstocking, to drive home his point.

King Harald V read his annual New Year's speech standing up from inside the Royal Palace in Oslo. He stressed a need for mutual respect and integration as Norway tries to settle 31,000 newly arrived asylum seekers. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

King Harald V read his annual New Year’s speech standing up from inside the Royal Palace in Oslo. He stressed a need for mutual respect and integration as Norway tries to settle 31,000 newly arrived asylum seekers. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

“‘Those who are very strong must be very kind,'” the monarch quoted “Pippi” as saying when he urged fellow Norwegians listening in on New Year’s Eve to greet refugees with respect and support. King Harald has often noted that he was once a refugee himself, when his royal family fled Norway following the Nazi German invasion during World War II.

“King Harald’s New Year’s Eve speech confirms that he is concerned about the refugee crisis and that we as a nation should receive refugees in a positive and inclusive manner,” commentator Arne Strand wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen on Saturday. He noted how the king also praised the thousands of Norwegians around the country who spontaneously donated food and clothing, and opened their own homes to asylum seekers last autumn.

While King Harald also touched on a wide variety of issues and recollections from his family’s own years during his annual address to the nation, Prime Minister Solberg began with and dwelled on the refugee crisis in her nationally televised speech on New Year’s Night. She noted there are many more people in Norway welcoming the New Year now than there were last year, after 60,000 babies were born, many continued to arrive from Europe in search of work and because of all those seeking asylum.

That’s why integration is so important, Solberg said, even though she noted how her government has taken steps to tighten asylum and immgration rules. Those granted asylum must be met, she said, with human compassion, respect and cooperation. Newly arrived refugees in turn, she said, “must be willing to follow our laws and regulations, learn Norwegian, work and take part in society.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg stressed the importance of "everyday integration" in her own New Year's address to the nation. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/NTB Scanpix

Prime Minister Erna Solberg stressed the importance of “everyday integration” in her own New Year’s address to the nation. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/NTB Scanpix

She stressed the need for “everyday integration,” as a shared responsibility by both Norwegians and newcomers. She pointed to the example set by a 16-year-old boy from Stovner in Oslo who launched programs now spreading nationwide where young people visit the elderly to share experience, and how locals reach out to newcomers. One teenage refugee was so eager to integrate in Norway that he learned conversational Norwegian in just under three weeks but then the burden is also on Norwegians to accept him and be welcoming. As another former illegal alien, Maria Amelie, wrote in newspaper Aftenposten recently, integration goes both ways. Norwegians demanding respect for local cultural traditions, she noted, would do well to share those traditions with newcomers.

That’s the “everyday integration” Solberg referred to. “If we’re to succeed at integration, everyone must contribute,” she said, urging Norwegians to reach out to asylum seekers being settled in their communities: “Can school classes form friendship groups, so that newly arrived children can be invited into Norwegian homes? Do you have an extra seat in your car so that refugee children can come along to football practice? Do you have some good Norwegian children’s books that can be donated to refugee families?” And on the bigger issues, Solberg urged Norwegians to help new arrivals learn Norwegian, consider volunteering as foster parents for asylum children arriving in alone in Norway, or simply call in job seekers who have non-Norwegian names to job interviews.

Media accolades
Norwegian media were hailing both the king’s and prime minister’s speeches during the weekend, calling Solberg’s speech “an important New Year’s message.” It was right for her, editorialized newspaper Aftenposten, “to use large parts of her New Year’s speech to address the issue that dominates our national conversation.”

Several commentators also used the speech to chide Solberg’s new immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug, who has caught criticism in recent days for launching new asylum and immigration rules that many feel are too strict: “We hope that (Norway’s) fresh new immigration minister with her sharp tongue listened extra closely to her own prime minister’s message, because in Erna Solberg’s version of reality, there are no immigrants being carried into Norway in a golden chair,” wrote Aftenposten.

Kaltham Alexander Lie, a former refugee from Iraq, had urged in his own commentary in Aftenposten that the king’s speech should have been translated into Arabic so that it could reach all the newly arrived asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. The king’s position can command great respect from such refugees, and be an important unifying force in an ever-more culturally diverse Norway, Lie wrote. “Let us listen to King Harald, and be inspired to create a better world for everyone,” Lie wrote.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund