Calls rise to help US-banned refugees

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As outrage piles up over the US Trump Administration’s sudden ban on asylum seekers and citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries, some Norwegians want to offer alternative shelter to more UN-approved refugees. Even a member of the Conservative Party, which holds government power, called for an evaluation on Monday of whether refugees now facing rejection at the US border can come to Norway instead.

Norway has had beds ready at asylum centers to take in refugees, and expects around 8,000 this year. PHOTO: UDI/Hero

“There can be many countries who should take in these refugees, and Norway is one of them,” Øyvind Halleraker, a Member of Parliament for the Conservatives, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. Halleraker is deputy leader of the Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, and thinks Norway needs to help more refugees now stranded once again at camps in the Middle East. “We must discuss how we can help, and see what possibilites we have to take in more UN-approved refugees, as a result of the new situation in the US,” Halleraker said.

His comments were quickly described as “positive and promising” by the Socialist Left party (SV), which generally disagrees with the Conservatives on most issues. Others from within his own government rejected his proposal though, and Labour Party politicians were also skeptical, even though they were clearly upset by the Trump Administration’s bans.

Warning against Trump’s ‘aggressive rhetoric’
“I’m uneasy about Europe following up on this by signalling that we stand ready to take in more refugees if the US doesn’t recognize its own obligations,” Labour MP Anniken Huitfeldt, who leads the foreign affairs committee, said on NRK’s morning political debate program Politisk kvarter. “In the worst case, I think that would only strengthen his (President Donald J Trump’s) opposition to taking in refugees.”

Huitfeldt warned against allowing Trump’s “aggressive rhetoric” to let him think he can shirk shared responsibility for the world’s refugees, “and that we stand ready to take over the job.” She also noted that more countries, in addition to the US, need to take responsibility for refugees “like Norway has.” Norway took in more than 30,000 asylum seekers in 2015, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, while the US took in an estimated 10,000.

SV leader Audun Lysbakken has asked Foreign Minister Børge Brende to address Parliament and explain how the government intends to respond to the US ban that suddenly took effect over the weekend. Brende has already publicly criticized the ban that was the result of one of Trump’s many controversial executive orders. The criticism, also from Prime Minister Erna Solberg, is unusual since the US has long been Norway’s most important ally.

Some Norwegian residents hit hard
Norway’s major newspapers were also editorializing on Monday that Norway must continue to vigorously oppose Trump’s travel ban that also applies to anyone holding passports from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized that while all countries want to keep out terrorists, a ban on entry based on nationality is wrong. “It won’t function as intended, it may be in violation of US law and it violates the US’ international obligations,” Aftenposten wrote, adding that Trump’s ban, however temporary it may be, is “one of the biggest setbacks in western immigration rhetoric for many decades.” It also appears to legitimize prejudice and stigmas attached to entire nations of people.

The ban has already prevented a reseacher and doctoral candidate at the University of Oslo from heading for the University of Colorado at Boulder to carry out a four-month research project tied to his PhD studies. Myhaf Fares has studied in Norway since 2011 and still holds a Syrian passport. Even though he’d been granted a visa and work/study permits for the project in Colorado, it’s now down the drain because of Trump’s order. So is a stipend-based project for a professional dancer who’s lived in Norway for 16 years and now works for the Norwegian Opera & Ballett. Navid Rezvani had aquired a travel stipend and all necessary approvals to spend four months training and studying dance in Seattle, but now can no longer enter the US because he still holds an Iranian passport in addition to his Norwegian passport. Although dual citizenship is generally not allowed in Norway, exceptions can be made, but Nezvani’s Norwegian passport alone won’t qualify him for the study-trip. Now he feels he’s suspected of being a terrorist based on his original nationality or religion or both.

“They (the US authorities) say this is not a ban on Muslims,” Fares told NRK, “but in reality it is.”

Ban may backfire
Others think Trump’s ban will actually backfire badly and make the US an even bigger target for Islamic extremists. “This is exactly what IS (the Islamic extremist organization) has been looking for,” Cecilie Hellestveit, one of Norway’s foremost experts on the Middle East, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. “A movement like IS will now have more interest in attacking the US than it did before. It sets in motion movements where polarization increases and Muslims feel persecuted.”

Three federal judges in the US have acted in New York, Virginia and Washington to halt the deportations of two Iraqi men and others who were arrested upon arrival. While the courts are responding and declaring at least parts of Trump order to be illegal, uncertainty and confusion are still running high over its ramifications.

At least one top Norwegian politician, meanwhile, is already objecting to any plans by the government to take in more UN-approved refugees. Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug of the conservative Progress Party, which shares government power with the Conservatives, claimed the government would not increase its quota of more refugees because of a “highly uncertain international situation” and her desire not to “send out signals” that Norway will welcome more.

“That led to us breaking all records (for refugee arrivals) and we got three times as many asylum seekers as in a normal year,” Listhaug, who’s lately been harshly criticized for sending young refugees back to Afghanistan, told NRK on Monday. “We have more than enough to integrate among those who are in Norway already, and our country already is tops in the world for aiding refugees where they are and bringing in refugees through the UN.”

Norway has agreed to take in another 3,120 so-called “quota refugees” through the UN this year, with 3,000 of them to come from Syria. After Halleraker’s statements to NRK Monday morning, the parliamentary leader for the Conservatives, Trond Helleland, “clarified” that the government would not follow up on Halleraker’s proposal: “The Parliament has reached a compromise for this term on asylum and refugee policy. We won’t be changing that.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund