Effort grows to revive ‘Nansenpass’

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As government officials hail Norway’s famed explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen this year, refugees in Oslo wish they’d take more to heart Nansen’s efforts to provide stateless persons with rights and credentials. One teenager whose family fled Lebanon planned to confront Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg with a replica of a “Nansenpass,” the special “passports” for refugees that Nansen initiated nearly a century ago.

Norway has been commemorating the 150th birthday of Fridtjof Nansen this year, and now undocumented migrants want to revive his "Nansen Passports" in the spirit of the moment. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Jasmin Tunc, age 16, has grown up in Norway but neither she nor her other family members have ever received residence or working permission. Their application for asylum has been rejected but they’ve stayed in the country, living in fear of being deported but feeling they can’t return voluntarily to the country they fled.

Tunc wrote in newspaper Aftenposten on Monday about her “life in limbo,” how she was initially denied the right to go to high school (she later managed to get into one) and how she can’t work or hope to attend university.

“I don’t think many people understand what it’s like to always be told ‘no,'” Tunc wrote. “‘No’ to a job, ‘no’ to school, ‘no’ to a holiday, ‘no’ to freedom. I feel like I’m bound fast and can’t move.”

She said her own parents “were children” when they fled war-torn Lebanon at the time. They met and married in Germany, where she was born. The family has been in Norway for nine years, she said, and “at home we speak Norwegian.” Norway is the country she considers home, but Norway has never accepted her.

Tunc’s commentary reflected the plight of many undocumented residents (called papirløs in Norwegian, literally “paper-less”) and she’s far from alone. Another child of refugees, Marie Amelie, put a face on the issue earlier this year after writing a book called Ulovlig norsk (Illegal Norwegian), and now a group of 23 Palestinians have set up camp not far from Norway’s immigration agency UDI to demonstrate their situation. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how Norway, which has supported the Palestinians’ demand for a homeland in the Middle East for years, is far from the welcoming country the Palestinian refugees had expected. One of them, from Gaza, has just had his application for asylum rejected but he refuses to return to Gaza, claiming it’s unsafe. “I don’t want to be the third brother in my family to be killed,” one told Aftenposten. “I was stateless. Now I’m undocumented as well.”

Oslo already has been the site of many demonstrations urging more rights for undocumented workers. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Monday that the number of undocumented persons in Norway seeking medical aid has more than doubled so far this year. The Red Cross and church aid group Kirkens Bymisjon run the health center for undocumented migrants in Oslo and say patients have come from as far as Bodø in northern Norway to get help.

The center was controversial when it opened, because its users are in Norway illegally, but health officials have since cleared rights to health care for undocumented migrants. Children of undocumented workers, like Tunc, hope more rights will be granted as well.

“I expect Stoltenberg (the prime minister) to receive our message and listen,” Dag Hareide, principal of the Nansen School, who’s reviving the “Nansenpass” with Tunc, told Aftenposten. The campaign is backed by 40 organizations to provide a solution for the extimated 400 undocumented children who have lived as asylum seekers in Norway for more than three years. Many who have been rejected for asylum can’t be sent back to their homelands, leaving them in limbo in Norway.

In its time, a “Nansenpass” was recognized in 52 countries. Hareide said he thinks the Justice Ministry has addressed the issue, and now the prime minister’s office needs to follow through. Stoltenberg recently called Nansen “a great humanitarian who used his fame as a polar explorer to help Europe’s weakest.” Tunc and others like her in Norway think it’s now their turn to get some of the help Nansen advocated.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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