Refugee arrivals set new record

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Never before have so many people sought asylum in Norway, reports newspaper Aftenposten . Nearly 10,000 have arrived in the country so far this year, breaking the record set in 2002. The increase, though, has been expected.

The government ministry in charge of immigration issues had reported in June that as many as 18,000 asylum seekers would come to Norway this year. Now immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) predicts it will be at least that many, more than the 17,480 who arrived in 2002.

UDI reports that 9,900 have arrived already, 82 more than in the first half of 2002. Asylum centers are filled to capacity.

The Norwegian government last year unveiled a 13-point list of measures aimed at slowing the flow of asylum seekers finding their way to Norway. There was an initial downturn but it didn’t last long.

There has been a reduction in persons from Iraq seeking a new life in Norway. That’s been offset, however, by a rise in the number of people arriving from Afghanistan, many of them after a year of travel under extremely difficult circumstances.

The majority of persons applying for asylum in Norway now come from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia, according to Aftenposten .

Government attempted new offensive
Dag Terje Andersen, the government minister in charge of immigration issues, had said in June that the government already “feared” a new record for refugees in 2009, and his staff once again introduced measures aimed at slowing the flow. Among them: New rules requiring documented identity papers in order to obtain work permits in Norway, return of persons to Greece if that was their port of entry into Europe, and new tests to prove asylum seekers’ ages.

The government also has tried to speed repatriation of persons to safer areas within their own country. It also has granted more funding to UDI to more quickly process asylum applications. Frode Forfang, assistant director of UDI, told Aftenposten he thinks the agency has control over the situation.

Obligation to offer protection
With national elections looming in mid-September, some opposition politicians were quick to blast the government’s efforts to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Norway.

Others noted, though, that Norwegian officials from all political parties must realize that the increase in asylum seekers has most to do with troubles in the countries from which they’re fleeing. And Norway, they note, should uphold asylum provisions that, for example, allowed the father of musical sensation Alexander Rybak to stay in the country after fleeing Belarus.

“We all know about the unease in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and Iraq,” said Bjørg Tørresdal of the Christian Democrats. “As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we must take responsibility to offer protection to those who need it.”