Pressure grows on asylum attorneys

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Norwegian media has turned the spotlight on attorneys for asylum seekers this week, as complaints rise about the treatment some seekers receive when their cases are evaluated. At the heart of the issue is the disturbing story of a young single mother who was sent out of Norway and now is living on the streets of Genoa with her young son.

The case of Fathia Ahmed Omar has been revealed in a series of stories in newspaper Aftenposten. She arrived in Norway last fall, with a long story of poverty and abuse behind her, and started receiving medical treatment for massive injuries caused by gang rapes in Africa. Earlier this month, she was sent out of Norway to her point of entry into Europe, Italy, even though her medical treatment was far from complete. Aftenposten found her living on the streets of Genoa and trying to care for her young son. 

Immigration authorities initially blamed shoddy handling of her case by her asylum attorney and are now reconsidering her deportation. Meanwhile, asylum attorneys claim they are overworked, allowed inadequate time to prepare their clients’ defense and barely have time to get to know clients to whom they’re assigned.

Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that the state-appointed asylum attorneys’ bills have risen 800 percent since 2007. The state was billed more than NOK 40 million last year, double the amount in 2008, and eight times the amount of NOK 5 million in 2007. The lawyers are paid NOK 870 per hour and handled nearly 6,000 asylum cases last year.

Some attorneys are handling more cases than the law allows and have been criticized by asylum advocacy group NOAS, a law student organization and immigration board UNE (Utlendingsnemnda), for everything from forgetting deadlines to exceeding their case limits.

Justice Minister Knut Storberget said he was glad the public had engaged itself in the case of Fathia Ahmed Omar, but otherwise declined comment.

Views and News staff