Quarrels loom over asylum policies

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Norway can no longer handle the large numbers of asylum seekers who are streaming into the country, claims the government ministry in charge of immigration issues. Leaders of the re-elected government coalition disagree over asylum policies: Labour and the Center Party are calling for stricter rules while the Socialist Left wants them to be relaxed.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that an internal memorandum from the ministry that handles immigration and integration (Arbeids- og inkluderingsdepartementet) admits that Norwegian officials are losing control over the asylum flow. The total number of persons entering Norway and seeking asylum has tripled in the past three years, to an estimated 18,000 this year.

That ranks Norway among the European countries experiencing the biggest increase in asylum seekers, with the highest number of would-be refugees per citizen.

At the same time, the Norwegian officials charged with processing the asylum applications are severely overburdened. It’s already taking much longer to deal with each individual case, to set up enough asylum centers and resettle those whose applications are approved.

“There are limits to the capacity we have for reception, processing and settlement,” wrote the ministry. “We have today a situation where the processing time … is much too long.” It’s a major problem for all involved, both the applicants and the bureaucrats, claims the ministry. In addition, more than 8,200 persons are currently waiting for appeals of their rejected asylum applications to be reviewed.

The ministry was especially critical of the asylum appeals agency, UNE (Utlendingsnemnda) , suggesting it’s become too liberal. UNE stopped sending rejected asylum seekers back to their point of European entry in Greece earlier this year, making Norway “especially attractive” as a destination. “It doesn’t help that we can instruct (immigration agency) UDI’s understanding of the rules when UNE conducts a different practice,” wrote the ministry. UNE is, however, a non-political appeals board.

Norway’s chapter of Amnesty International called the criticism of UNE “unreasonable” and an attempt to influence its decision-making. Meanwhile, the government remains caught in the middle between those wanting more liberal asylum policies and those wanting Norway to tighten up, and the government leaders disagree among themselves.

As negotiations for a new platform got underway Monday, some are speculating the government coalition will set up a new ministry devoted strictly to immigration and asylum issues. Others want the Foreign Ministry to take over asylum issues while the Labour Department could remain responsible for integration.