Bishop Emeritus Tor Berger Jørgensen is calling on the Norwegian government to allow everyone who has been living illegally in Norway for five years or more, especially would-be refugees, to be allowed to work. Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug was quick to reject the bishop’s proposal as “completely unrealistic.”
Jørgensen, who now leads the board of the organization Mennesker i Limbo (People in Limbo), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday that it’s time to issue work permits and tax cards to long-term undocumented residents. He’s especially concerned about people who have had their applications for asylum rejected but continue to stay illegally in Norway, because they still fear for their lives in their homelands.
In some cases, rejected refugees aren’t issued travel documents by the embassies of their own homelands, as is the case with many who fled Eritrea. Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier this week that nearly all male asylum seekers from Afghanistan had their asylum applications rejected during the past year, with Norwegian officials claiming that some areas of Afghanistan are safe and they thus had no need for asylum in Norway.
“The politicians say that everyone can be returned,” Jørgensen told NRK. “That’s not how their reality is. Those who have been here the longest, and who for various reasons can’t return home, must be allowed to work and pay taxes.”
Vulnerable to exploitation
Immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) estimates that as many as 56,000 people may be living in Norway illegally. Stricter regulations meant to increase their voluntary return or deportation have made it impossible for rejected refugees, for example, to work and pay tax.
Marry-Anne Karlsen of the Uni Research Rokkan Center told NRK that research shows that countries where there’s a lot of black market labour are more attractive for undocumented workers than countries where the labour market is regulated. At the same time, Karlsen said, “it can be easier to actually get a job if they don’t have working permission, because then they represent a source of cheap labour that’s easy to exploit. It makes them attractive on the black market.” She said there was no research available on what effect work amnesty would have for long-term undocumented workers.
Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug of the conservative Progress Party, which has long advocated restrictive immigration policy, firmly rejected the bishop’s proposal Wednesday morning. She called it not only unrealistic but said that allowing illegal aliens to work would “send the wrong signals” and effectively “reward” people to remain in Norway illegally.
Listhaug has been encouraging the forced returns of many undocuments workers who’ve been rounded up and confined until they can be deported. Some include rejected asylum seekers with children, and Listhaug has also come under increasing criticism from activists claiming it’s illegal to hold children in custody in Norway.
Two legal experts including a professor at the University of Oslo have now filed suit against the Norwegian government at the European Court of Human Rights. Listhaug has responded by saying the detention facility used before deporations can be carries out is not akin to jail and that the children’s parents must be held responsible for subjecting their children to confinement after violating immigration law.