Parliament softens asylum reform

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Norway won’t be making its new immigration and asylum rules as strict as the tough-talking Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug wanted them to be. She didn’t manage to summon enough political support in Parliament to push through all 40 of her proposals, but policies will be tightened.

Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug hasn't won majority support in Parliament for all her proposals to toughen Norway's immigration policy. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug hasn’t won majority support in Parliament for all her proposals to toughen Norway’s immigration policy. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

It was right in the middle of Norway’s Christmas holiday week when Listhaug of the conservative Progress Party rolled out her proposals, after just a few weeks in her new ministerial post. Her tough stance in the wake of last year’s influx of around 30,000 refugees was welcomed in some quarters but resisted in others, including officials of some of the government’s own support parties.

In the end, opposition in Parliament blocked three of the most controversial measures this week. Among them was her proposal that young asylum seekers who arrive in Norway alone should only be granted temporary residence until they reach the legal age of 18. After that, they could risk being sent back to their homelands.

‘Doing the right thing’
“Our elected officials are doing the only right thing, and listened to the massive criticism that came from experts during the hearings on that,” Thale Skybak of Norway’s chapter of Save the Children (Redd Barna) told newspaper Aftenposten. “That proposal was dangerous for children.”

Listhaug and her fellow government ministers also failed to secure majority support for its proposal to tighten rules for family reunification, which included specific demands for income and that those already in Norway had to have studied or held a job in Norway for at least three years.

A majority in Parliament also rejected the government’s proposal that new immigrants must live in Norway for five years (up from three years) before they’re eligible to seek permanent residence permission.

Voting on Friday will likely usher in many of the other proposals, backed by some unusual political constellations. In some cases the government’s two support parties (the Liberals and Christian Democrats) are poised to vote again while Labour and the Center Party in opposition may actually support the government instead.

Still ‘clearly tightening’
Progress Party faithful predictably claimed the opposition had otherwise weakened the government’s attempt to tighten up asylum rules in the midst of the refugee crisis. The “crisis” has let up, however, and Labour Party officials flatly rejected they were “watering down” the government’s efforts to firm up immigration policy.

“We are clearly tightening, but we won’t support proposals that we think would hinder integration,” Helga Pedersen of Labour told newsbureau NTB. Making new immigrants wait five years, for example, can hurt their motivation to learn to speak and understand Norwegian more quickly.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg was disappointed, and there were widespread reports that her Conservative Party didn’t think Listhaug’s Progress Party showed enough willingness to compromise on some issues. The Progress Party’s hard line can have backfired, and Solberg made it clear she had wanted majority support on more measures.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund