State defends anti-violence courses for asylum seekers

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State officials are defending a unique series of courses they’re planning to introduce in asylum centers around the country. The courses are aimed at training male asylum seekers to overcome violent tendencies and accept female equality in Norway, while female refugees will be taught their new rights. Critics are already forming a chorus.

The new courses, reports newspaper Aftenposten , are a reaction to ominous crime statistics released last spring. They show that of more than 40 reported rapes occurring on the streets of Oslo in recent years, all were committed by immigrants with non-western backgrounds. Six of 11 alleged rapists arrested by police were seeking asylum in Norway at the time the rape occurred.

Hanne Kristin Rohde, police inspector who leads the vice and homicide division for the Oslo Police District, released the statistics in April and said there was no intention to stigmatize immigrant men. Rather, she told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, she simply felt the statistics needed to be made public. “Politicians need to be be informed about this type of information,” she said, adding that “it’s those who commit rape who stigmatize themselves.” She also commented that the statistics “say something, that the (state) reception for immigrants functions poorly.”

Promoting alternatives to violence

Libe Rieber-Mohn, a state secretary in the government ministry dealing with immigration issues, is among the politicians reacting to the police statistics. Rieber-Mohn, from the Labour Party, told Aftenposten that many male immigrants coming to Norway “must learn alternative strategies to the use of violence and harassment.”

The courses, to be conducted at aslyum centers in Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder, Telemark and Vestfold, will counsel male asylum seekers against resorting to violence in their new country. The goal is to prevent assaults and sexual assaults against women, by engaging the men in conversation groups and enlightening them about Norway’s egalitarian culture, which they will be expected to accept.

Rieber-Mohn stressed that the transition from patriarchal, often violent, cultures to an egalitarian, western culture can be difficult for many of the male immigrants. “It’s important that we guide them and help with the transition,” she said. “Also that we help female immigrants feel more secure, and explain that it’s natural for women to walk alone here, not necessarily fully covered with clothing.”

Fending off criticism

Critics, from newspaper columnists covering minority issues to the refugee advocacy group NOAS, have already complained that the courses can’t possibly stop sexual assaults in Norway. They worry the courses will stigmatize immigrants regardless, and that the government isn’t addressing the problem of asylum seekers who stay illegally in Norway after their applications have been rejected.

Rieber-Mohn defends the courses, calling them only one part of broader efforts to reduce assault and rape statistics. “No one believes that courses at an asylum center are the only answer,” she told Aftenposten on Monday. “There will, of course, be other measures as well.

“There must be a limit to how banal the arguments against (the courses) can be.”