Most young Afghan refugees run away

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As Norwegian politicians continue to negotiate over forced returns of young rejected refugees, new figures show that most of them disappear before deportations are carried out. Running away from the asylum centers where they’ve only been allowed to live temporarily indicates how desperate they are to avoid being sent back to dangerous homelands.

Norway currently has had lots of empty beds at asylum centers around the country, mostly because of the sharp drop of refugee arrivals. Many underage refugees who’ve had their asylum applications rejected also run away from asylum centers, for fear of being forcibly returned to their homelands, especially Afghanistan. PHOTO: UDI/Hero

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Thursday that fully 90 percent of young Afghan refugees whose asylum applications were rejected disappear from the asylum centers that sheltered them before their 18th birthdays. That’s when they’re suddenly considered adults in Norway, and can be deported. Many thus opt to run away, go into hiding and often wind up on the streets of other European cities where deportations aren’t as well-organized as in Norway.

Fight goes on to protect them
The disappearance rate was calculated by the state police’s own division that enforces decisions by immigration authorities (Politiets utlendingsenhet, PU). “It’s a consequence of the policy (of forced returns at age 18) and the lack of consideration given this group,” Thale Skybak of Redd Barna (Norway’s chapter of Save the Children) told Dagsavisen. “We are extremely worried.”

The organization that champions the care and rights of children has long fought for a change in Norway’s strict and enforced returns of rejected refugees. “As long as we have this policy that hurts children, we have to try to do something,” Skybak said. “They become mentally ill, they become passive and they isolate themselves. More of them physically injure themselves and they disappear. We believe Norway is violating the UN’s convention on children and that the only temporary residence permission now provided must be eliminated.”

‘A setback for the civilized Norway’
After Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug appealed to Parliament on Wednesday against halting the returns, for fear Norway would become a magnet for more asylum seekers, both the Labour and Center parties allowed the government’s current practice to continue, at least for now. They voted against a proposal from the Socialist Left party (SV) to halt the deportations of young refugees when they become of legal age.

In doing so, though, Labour MPs led by Jonas Gahr Støre defied growing unrest within the Labour Party itself over the issue. Several former government ministers for Labour, its youth organization AUF and several county chapters have called for a halt to the returns. They included former Foreign Minister Bjørn Tore Godal, who wrote a commentary in Dagsavisen this week in which he called the forced returns “a setback for the civilized Norway.

Støre told reporters that the issue had been drafted at a meeting of Labour MPs after Listhaug spoke. “For us, it’s important to be confident that the conditions around the returns are acceptable,” Støre told Dagsavisen. “That’s why we called in two ministers (Listhaug of the Progress Party and new Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide of the Conservatives) and we base our decision on their answers. We hold the government responsible for making returns to Afghanistan acceptable.”

New proposal coming from the Liberals
Those opposing the forced returns were thus let down but aren’t giving up. Now the Liberal Party claims it will put forth a new proposal calling for at least a halt of the returns of underage refugees who arrive in Norway alone and would be subject to running away. Kjetil Kjenseth of the Liberals hopes Labour will support that: “Now they (Labour) must clarify whether they support current practice, or not.”

The Christian Democrats are firmly opposed to forced returns of young asylum seekers and supported SV’s proposal. So did the Greens and the Reds. “I challenge the parties (in opposition) to overturn this practice of granting only temporary residence permission to young, lone asylum seekers,” said Torhild Bransdal of the Christian Democrats. “That’s what this is all about.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund