New ministers tackle asylum deluge

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The new Norwegian government, feeling overrun by asylum-seekers streaming into the country, has restructured the ministries dealing with asylum issues and allocated billions to deal with the challenges. The country will use as much money on refugees in Norway as it does on direct aid programs to Africa.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has reshuffled responsibility for various asylum issues among the ministries. Until now, the Ministry of Labour has had responsibility for most aspects of asylum and immigration, including deciding cases and eventual integration. The police, however, under the Justice Ministry, has processed asylum seekers and carried out eventual expulsion orders.

Now the immigration and asylum cases will be removed from Labour and handled from start to finish by Justice. Responsibility for the integration of those immigrants and refugees allowed to stay in Norway will be handled by the ministry dealing with family and children’s issues and equality.

That ministry (Barn- og likestillingsdepartementet) is now headed by the government’s youngest and reportedly most radical member, Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left Party (SV). His party lost an effort to block a tightening of asylum policies in Norway. Now, say immigrant supporters, at least he and his party will have more influence over the integration and care of immigrants in Norway.

“Asylum seekers’ supporters are very pleased that actual asylum and immigration cases will be handed by Justice, while integration goes to SV’s new ‘equality minister,’ Audun Lysbakken,” stated the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, NOAS, and Norwegian People’s Aid.

Conflicts have been frequent in recent years between immigration agency UDI and the police. Now UDI and the police will be under the same ministry, Justice, and that’s meant to boost cooperation.

Lysbakken has liberal ideas for including immigrants and refugees in Norwegian society once they’re allowed to stay. Stoltenberg’s party, Labour, meanwhile, hasn’t wanted to appear too liberal on asylum and immigration rules, so they’ll now be handled more strictly under Justice.

More than 19,000 persons now live in 145 over-filled asylum centers scattered around Norway, up 66 percent from last year. Norway recently has attracted record numbers of would-be refugees, many arriving without any identity papers and demanding to stay.

The government now plans to send them out of the country more quickly and even keep them in custody while their cases are under consideration. The government also needs to build more centers, plans to build some in Afghanistan and in other countries.

Costs are hitting NOK 10.5 billion for next year, a sum that even is hard to swallow for SV, which is the party most open to immigration. Looming restrictions on asylum, however, spurred criticism.

“Stoltenberg is creating the impression that asylum seekers should automatically be under suspicion,” Peter Eide of Norwegian People’s Aid told Aftenposten recently. “It marks a big change in Norwegian politics, that the government is willing to stigmatize asylum seekers.”