Calls rise to halt Afghan returns

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Norway’s conservative government is under more pressure to stop sending rejected refugees back to Afghanistan, especially minors when they turn 18. Amnesty International is among those demanding the halt to forced refugee returns, claiming Afghanistan is as dangerous as ever, but there’s still broad political support for the practice, also from the Labour and Center parties in the Norwegian Parliament.

Norway has had troops in Afghanistan for more than a decade, some of them shown here taking part in the response to a terrorist attack at the Park Palace in Kabul in January. Immigration and government authorities nonetheless insist that Kabul and other areas of Afghanistan are safe enough for rejected refugees. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Amnesty International released a new report (external link) during the night that scolds Norway over its zeal to deport refugees who aren’t viewed by Norwegian authorities as needing protection. Amnesty notes that Norway is among the countries in the world that rejects the most asylum seekers from Afghanistan and forcibly sends then back. Norway stood for fully 64 percent of all Afghan refugees who were deported back to Afghanistan last year alone.

Norwegian authorities still contend that some areas of the war-torn country are safe, including the capital of Kabul. Amnesty objects strongly, describing Kabul as among the most dangerous provinces in the country. It’s regularly rammed by terrorist bombings  and “it’s here (in Kabul) that the most civilians are killed and wounded,” claims Amnesty.

Norway has also been criticized by other international authorities who do not view Afghanistan as safe and question the Norwegians’ return policy. In some cases, Norway has been accused of also indirectly sending its young refugees to France, where some have fled because they fear deportation in Norway back to Afghanistan. French authorities still view Afghanistan as unsafe.

That was viewed as embarrassing for Norway, which prides itself on its humanitarian policies and social welfare state, but there’s been no let-up in the returns. Newspaper Dagsavisen noted on Thursday that another 130 young Afghan refugees now in Norway will turn 18 by the end of the year, thus be viewed as adults and likely be deported. A total of 302 asylum seekers under the age of 18 currently have temporary permission to remain in Norway but fear deportation on their 18th birthdays that are no cause for celebration.

A street scene in Kabul, which Norwegian authorities consider safe. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Hilde Frafjord Johnsen of the Christian Democrats’ party joined Amnesty’s renewed call on Thursday for a halt to the deportations, claiming on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday morning that the Norwegian government must reevaluate its refugee return policy. Her call is important, because Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government coalition with the Progress Party needs support from both the non-socialist Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party to have a majority in Parliament. Both parties have opposed the refugee return policy, and it’s currently viewed as more politically unwise than ever to provoke either one of them.

On the refugee return issue, however, Solberg’s Conservatives and the Progress Party have had the support of both the Center and Labour parties in opposition. Only the Socialist Left and Greens parties side with the Christian Democrats and Liberals on halting returns. There’s been some indication, reported Dagsavisen, that Labour might ease its stand on the forced returns, “but as long as the Center Party stands together with the Progress Party and Conservatives, there’s a majority to continue” the returns and allow Norway to remain the only country in Europe that removed a requirement for “reasonableness” in the deportations.

‘They can’t be here’
Vidar Brein-Karlsen, a state secretary representing the Progress Party in the justice ministry, defended Norway’s controversial refugee return policy once again on Thursday. He said the ministry, which is in charge of immigration and asylum issues, is “very aware” of Amnesty’s views on the situation in Afghanistan and claimed it has responded to them in detail. Authorities at immigration agency UDI, who answer to the ministry, continue to maintain that many areas of Afghanistan are safe, based on reports from the foreign ministry and other organizations including, he claimed, Amnesty itself.

Vidar Brein Karlsen PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

“It’s correct that we send out more asylum seekers than others,” Brein-Karlsen said on NRK. He claimed, however, that it’s not because Norway’s policy is any stricter than other countries’ but because “we are very good” at weeding out unqualified applicants for asylum and deporting them. When they’re determined to have no need for protection in Norway, “they can’t be here,” he said.

In response to the Christian Democrats’ demand for a reevaluation of current policy, Brein-Karlsen said it was already under “continual evaluation,” but that cases must be handled on an individual basis. He seemed undaunted by all the objections, both within and outside Norway, to Norwegian authorities’ view that Kabul and other areas are safe and that returned refugees will not be in danger.

Amnesty claimed on Thursday that at least one young man, whose application for asylum was rejected in Norway, was kidnapped, tortured and killed after landing back in Afghanistan. A spokesman for UDI said it was “difficult for us to comment on individual incidents.”

Hundreds of Norwegians who also oppose Norway’s current refugee policy demonstrated in Trondheim this week, demanding that their government authorities halt the looming deportation of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee and her family. The crowd carried placards demanding that Norwegian authorities “travel down to Afghanistan yourselves, and see how ‘safe’ it is.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund