A young woman from the former Soviet Union, whose family sought and failed to win asylum in Norway when she was still a teenager, was in custody on Thursday and threatened with deportation. Maria Amelie won an award last year for her struggle as an illegal alien, and protests were brewing over her sudden detention.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Maria Amelie was taken into custody by eight police officers around 11pm Wednesday night, after she had given a speech at, ironically enough, the Nansen School in Lillehammer, named after one of Norway’s most famous humanitarians and asylum advocates Fridtjof Nansen.
Amelie, age 25, published a book last year entitled Ulovlig norsk (Illegally Norwegian), about what her life has been like as an undocumented resident of Norway. She had quickly learned Norwegian after arriving in the country in 2003 and despite her lack of papers, had completed high school and college with high marks and studied at university in Trondheim, obtaining a master’s degree in science and technology, according to her publisher Pax Forlag. The weekly magagzine Ny Tid (New Times) had honoured her with its Årets nordmann (“Norwegian of the Year”) award in December.
Norwegian authorities, however, now want to send her back to where she came from, believed to be North Ossetia in the former Soviet Union, which her family fled 13 years ago. A police spokesman told NRK that Amelie was arrested because she has resided in Norway illegally for many years, and a new evaluation of her case by the state panel deciding whether to grant asylum, Utlendingsnemnda, determined that she must leave Norway.
(See a video of her arrest on NRK here – external link, in Norwegian.)
NRK reported that she was taken to the Trandum asylum center in Ullensaker and would be formally charged Thursday afternoon.
Her case is politically awkward for both the government and opposition parties in Parliament. Government coalition party SV, which favours liberal asylum laws, finds itself all but forced to defend her pending deportation because her appeals had been denied. For the conservative Progress Party, which long has urged restrictive asylum and immigration policies, Amelie has been a classic example of an immigrant who rapidly integrated into Norwegian society and is eager to make a contribution. She has won broad support among the public, following the release of her book, with one well-known hotel owner in western Norway writing in a letter to the editor of newspaper Aftenposten this week that she wished she could adopt Amelie, so that she’d be allowed to stay in the country.
Amelie’s parents also reportedly remain in Norway as illegal aliens, and face the threat of arrest and deportation as well. Circumstances of their flight from the Caucasus remain unclear, and the family was first rejected for asylum in Finland before heading for Norway. Authorities in both countries found no justification for their asylum claim, and felt they were in no danger back home. Amelie has never been willing to disclose exactly where home was, or from who or what they were fleeing. At this point, though, returning to the Caucasus will be like going to a foreign country, since Amelie was underage when they left and has never lived there as an adult.
Amelie herself had written in a commentary in Aftenposten earlier this month that she felt both relief and fear after openly telling her story last fall. She wrote that she felt like she “wasn’t a person,” rather “an illegal,” and “I risk getting the police at my door, with their latest rejection of me in hand and a half-hour to pack up my things before I get put on a plane,” she wrote.
Instead the police seized her outside the Nansen School, on a cold winter night in the city that once hosted the world at the 1994 Olympics. NRK reported that a protest over her detention was planned for 5pm outside Norway’s Justice Ministry.