Norway is registering the biggest decline in Europe in the numbers of people seeking asylum in the country. Arrivals in the first half of this year are down 46 percent, a sharp contrast from last year when Norway logged a big increase.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reports that the decline is linked to stricter policies on Norway’s terms for asylum, recently ushered in by the left-center coalition government. The policies are discouraging many refugees from choosing Norway as their country of destination.
Norway no longer, for example, grants automatic asylum for refugees coming from a specific area like southern Somalia. All would-be refugees now must apply individually for asylum on humanitarian grounds.
Persons who’ve been granted asylum on humanitarian grounds must also study or hold a job for four years before they’re allowed to apply for other family members to join them in Norway. Asylum seekers whose applications are rejected also now face being sent back to the European countries where they first arrived, and the numbers of forced returns have risen.
Variations reflect politics
Ida Børresen, head of immigration agency UDI, told Dagsavisen that the total numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Europe have been “relatively stable” over the past five to 10 years. Numbers attached to individual countries, though, vary widely, she noted, an indication of each country’s own policies.
While Norway’s arrivals have sunk 46 percent, Sweden’s have increased 36 percent, according to statistics from UDI. A total of 4,413 asylum seekers had arrived in Norway by July 1 this year, and 5,311 by September 1. That compares to 14,056 arriving in Sweden by July 1 and 18,300 by September 1.
Denmark’s arrivals of asylum seekers also rose sharply, by 30 percent, but strict policies in Denmark have left actual numbers relatively low, with only 1,910 persons applying for asylum in Denmark during the first half of this year, less than half the number in Norway and a fraction of those opting for Sweden.
Asked whether Sweden “has a better reputation” for welcoming refugees than Norway, Børresen said “it can appear that the asylum seekers have knowledge of what sorts of policies are in effect in the various countries.”
Justice Minister Knut Storberget said Norway’s policy of deporting people not viewed as eligible for asylum “is the clearest way we can communicate our policies.” He and other government members have claimed that persons truly in need of protection will get it, while others merely wanting to move to Norway won’t.
(See related story: Hot summer for asylum officials)