Asylum policy strictest in Europe

Bookmark and Share

Norway’s policies for granting asylum and residence status to immigrants are among the strictest in Europe, according to some human rights experts. Between 1996 and 2008, 5 million undocumented migrants were given the right to stay in Europe. None were allowed to stay in Norway.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is "playing a tough game" with asylum policy during an election year, claims one expert on human rights. PHOTO: LO/Paal Andreassen

“Even when he has a choice, (Labour Prime Minister) Jens Stoltenberg repeatedly chooses stricter immigration policies than Berlusconi,” Kjetil Tronvoll, professor and human rights expert at the University of Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen, referring to the far more conservative and embattled Italian prime minister. “Both the Maria Amelie case and that of the undocumented Ethiopians who recently occupied Oslo Cathedral are unusual cases where one could have decided to find a solution without undermining the integrity of the asylum regulations, which is what the government is afraid of.”

Stoltenberg’s left-center government coalition has taken a firm stand on immigration policies, often over the objections of some coalition members. It’s believed his Labour Party is most keen to counter any opposition party criticism that the government might be too soft on immigration, and some political commentators have said Stoltenberg has gained by being being tough.

Tronvoll conceded that the authorities “understandably” argue that it “should not be possible to wrangle one’s way to permanent resident status. However, in the Ethiopian case, it’s not a question of thousands, but a few hundred, who are in a special predicament because they cannot be compulsorily repatriated.

“Maria Amelie is another special case which brings up the question of whether children should be made responsible for their parents’ actions,” Tronvoll told Dagsavisen. He thinks the government could have made exceptions to the rules in their cases, by offering some sort of amnesty.

Most countries in the European Union (EU) have carried out humanitarian solutions whereby amnesty and permanent residency are granted to a group of people who have previously been undocumented.  These people may be either migrants looking for work or former asylum seekers. Amnesty ís usually given in order to combat the underground economy and wage dumping. Berlusconi granted amnesty to more than half-a-million migrants in 2002 and 2003, reported Dagsavisen, while Spain and Greece have granted amnesty as well.

In northern Europe, undocumented workers are primarilly former asylum seekers. Humanitarian arguments play a larger role in normalizing their status. Sweden allowed 17,000 previously rejected asylum seekers to stay after reviewing their cases. Finland has a general clause which grants resident status to undocumented migrants if they are still in the country two years after the final rejection of their applications.

“The political leadership decides how the regulations are implemented. When the politicians advocate strictness, applications are affected correspondingly. From what I observe, a very tough game is being played. This is an election year and I think that may be explanation enough,” Tronvoll told Dagsavisen.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
Click on our Readers Respond feature if you’d like to comment on this story