Norwegian government officials chartered a jet and forcibly sent 30 rejected refugees back home to Iraq over the weekend. The sudden deportations drew protests from some asylum advocates, but praise from opposition politicians, not least because the 30 included 11 persons with long criminal records in Norway. Others whose asylum applications have been turned down are being encouraged to leave on a more voluntary basis.
Norway’s left-center government coalition made it clear that the forced return home was meant to send a signal, that it’s trying to reduce the stream of asylum seekers coming to Norway. Those without legitimate need for protection, claims Justice Minister Knut Storberget, won’t be allowed to stay in Norway.
Ingrid Wirum, chief of the police division in charge of the deportations, said around 4,200 persons whose asylum applications have been rejected will be sent out of Norway this year. Another 4,900 likely will be deported next year.
“We want persons who’ve been ordered to leave the country to do so voluntarily, and we’ll stimulate as many as possible to do that,” Wirum told newspaper Dagsavisen .
The deportations over the weekend, she said, “show that we can forcibly return those who don’t leave voluntarily.”
The returns to Iraq were made possible by an agreement signed between Norway and Iraq in May. More than 60 police officers accompanied the 30 men, 11 of whom have criminal convictions in Norway for assaults, rape and drug dealing.
The deportations nonetheless sparked protests from the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), which claimed not all of them followed UN guidelines aimed at ensuring the asylum seekers’ security. Storberget responded to newspaper Aftenposten that “it’s Norway, and not the UN, that determines Norwegian asylum policy.”
Even the UN’s own human rights experts contend that those convicted of serious crimes have excluded themselves from the right to international protection.
Storberget suggested there will be more forced returns aboard chartered flights, saying they are more economical than individual returns with needed escorts on regularly scheduled aircraft.
Meanwhile, some asylum seekers who have agreed to return to their homelands are getting help to do so. Amirkhan Rjesjedhonov, age 23, told Aftenposten he has agreed to travel home to Chechnya and in return is receiving job training as a car mechanic, classes in English and NOK 10,000 in cash to help finance a new life.
Rjesjedhonov said he came to Norway because he didn’t want to serve in the Russian military, “against my own people,” and fears what may await him back in Chechnya. He said, though, that it was “less dangerous” for him to travel home on his own, without a police escort.
Harald Nesset, leader of the asylum center in Lier where Rjesjedhonov has been staying, said the “stimulus package” has led to a doubling of those voluntarily leaving Norway, many of them back to Iraq.