Just a day after a refugee aid group blasted Norwegian officials for being slow at taking in more refugees, state immigration agency UDI announced that around 20 will be flown to Norway this week from Italy, where they’ve been languishing in refugee camps. At least another 1,480 are due by the end of next year.
Ann-Magrit Austenå, head of the refugee advocacy organization NOAS, had harshly criticized the government on Tuesday. She blamed it for being slow to follow up on their commitment to take in 1,500 of the refugees currently stuck in camps in Southern Europe and elsewhere. Even though Norway is not a member of the European Union, it agreed to support the EU’s refugee relocation program and volunteered to take in the 1,500 by the end of 2017.
Norway also agreed to take in 600 Syrian refugees currently in Turkey as part of the refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey. The numbers are tiny, though, compared to the millions of displaced people who need new homes.
Austenå claimed it was “embarrassing” that Norway has been so slow to take in just the 20 now due to arrive. “Norwegian authorities can’t possibly have done everything in their power when it comes to bringing in refugees now in Italy and Greece,” she told news bureau NTB. “This was agreed in April. Only 170 places have been prepared and still none have arrived. There are certainly no signs that this has been a priority.”
Instead, Norwegian immigration authorities have been shutting down centers set up to accommodate asylum seekers. UDI is still recovering from the influx of 31,000 refugees who arrived in Norway last year, all of whom needed accommodation and processing.
Since then, the asylum wave into Norway has turned into a trickle, with less than 3,500 refugees expected to arrive this year. Several political parties including the Christian Democrats and the Liberals have been urging the government to keep asylum centers open and help more refugees in need, to no avail.
Those due to arrive in Norway have fled Eritrea. Their first stop will be the asylum center set up at Råde in Østfold, south of Oslo, which remains open, receiving only around 30 to 40 people who have made their way to Norway on their own and seek asylum.