Skepticism grows over immigration

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A new survey carried out by state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) shows that a third of all Norwegians now think it should become even more difficult for asylum seekers to secure residence permission. That’s up 4 percent from last year, with SSB also reporting “changes in several indications of attitudes” regarding immigration.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited newly arrived refugees and the volunteers helping them in Oslo last week. Now the overburdened Oslo police station that's been registering the refugees will be replace by a large new reception center set up at Råde in Østfold County, about an hour south of Oslo. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited newly arrived refugees and the volunteers helping them in Oslo last year. The asylum stream has since ceased, while the numbers of immigration skeptics have risen.  PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The survey of attitudes towards immigrants and immigration, conducted during the summer, is the first of its kind since a refugee influx ended late last year. It brought a total of 31,500 new asylum seekers to Norway, mostly in the latter half of 2015.

The refugee flow has since all but ceased, with current arrivals of asylum seekers at their lowest point in years after both Norway and the EU tightened border controls. Norwegian politicians also proposed tougher immigration laws aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from coming to Norway unless they can prove a real need for protection. The initial proposals were eventually eased, but asylum qualification rules have become stricter.

“You’d think all that would have relieved the concerns of the skeptics, but I think many (people taking part in the survey) still relate to what the situation was last year,” Svein Blom, a researcher at SSB who compiled the new report, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It hasn’t been communicated strongly enough that the asylum stream has been exceptionally low in 2016.” Many asylum seekers who arrived last year have also been rejected and, often controversially, sent out of the country.

Attitudes towards immigrants are nonetheless less hospitable than they were last year. There was a 7 percentage point decline in the numbers of those agreeing that “most immigrants make an important contribution to Norwegian life” and an 8 percentage point decline among those who agree that “all immigrants in Norway should have the same job opportunities as Norwegians.” There were some modifying results, though, and fully 86 percent of Norwegians still believe, for example, that immigrants should have equal job opportunities.

To read SSB’s version of the survey in English, click here (external link).

Blom stressed that the largest portion of Norwegians taking part in the survey, more than half of all questioned, want to maintain asylum policies as they are now. While a third want to toughen them further, 12 percent want to liberalize immigration law and make it easier for refugees to resettle in Norway.

“The long-term trend isn’t especially negative,” Blom said. “When we posed the same questions in the early 2000s, many more Norwegians wanted to make it more difficult to get residence permission. But the change from last year is quite clearly in the direction of less generosity.”

‘Sad reading’
Rune Berglund Steen of Norway’s Anti-Racism Center (Antirasistisk Senter) called the report “sad reading.” He’s not happy that half of those responding want to maintain the status quo, and thus maintain the tougher policies finally approved by Parliament after heated debate last year.

“We have a refugee crisis, in Syria children have been bombed into dust and here at home we have the stingiest asylum policies ever,” Steen told Dagsavisen. “In that regard, many (Norwegians) are out of touch with the great big world out there, and that’s sad.”

Steen blames much of the rising opposition to immigration on the current minority conservative government coalition’s rhetoric, but he doesn’t think racism is a big problem yet: “As long as 70 percent think immigration enriches our culture, we don’t need to think we’ve failed.”

Another view:
Asle Toje, a foreign policy researcher and commentator, thinks SSB’s survey downplays skepticism towards immigrants within the Norwegian population. “What we’ve seen is a large bloc of immigration skeptics among Norwegian voters,” Toje said. “How big is a matter of debate, but it is large and it hasn’t gotten its way regarding preferences for fewer immigrants.”

In contrast to Steen, Toje thinks Norwegian asylum policies remain rather kind. “Norway’s population is changing at a shocking tempo, it can compare with the US during its mass immigration wave,” Toje claimed. “Yet the political discussion has little to do with realities, and surveys like this one (SSB’s) have nothing to do with the political discussion.”

SSB’s survey showed that 32 percent of Norwegians questioned think immigration is a source of insecurity in society, up from 26 percent last year. Another 54 percent, however, disagreed. Blom of SSB thinks the various terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, including those in Paris and Nice, have made more people fear immigrants and refugees.

“Claims that terrorists can be among those who arrive as asylum seekers can strengthen that impression,” Blom said. It can be noted, though, that the most serious terrorist attack committed in Norway since World War II was carried out by an ultra right-wing white Norwegian man who killed 77 people on July 22, 2011. He claimed he attacked Norway’s Labour Party-led government at the time because it was allowing too many immigrants into the country.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund