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Supreme Court deals major blow to refugee families with children

Norway’s highest court rejected an appeal on Friday from two refugee families seeking to stay in Norway with their children. The ruling is expected to have consequences for around 450 other children in Norway whose parents are deemed illegal aliens.

Friday’s ruling means that nine-year-old Mahdi Shabazi of Rjukan in Telemark County will be deported to Iran, even though he was brought by his parents to Norway as a baby and has grown up in Norway. The ruling also means that Verona Delic, age 10, will have to remain in Bosnia, where she and her family were sent in a forced deportation earlier this year even though she had been born in Norway.

The Shabazi and Delic families, both of whom have lived in Rjukan, had appealed their deportation orders all the way to the Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning a decision by immigration officials that they did not qualify for asylum in Norway. Verona’s family had been in Norway for 11 years when they were sent back to Bosnia, while the Shabazi family has been in Norway for more than eight years.

Dispute over what’s ‘best for the children’
Both families hoped the country’s highest court would rule in favour of what’s generally viewed as best for the children, which could allow them to obtain permanent Norwegian residence status since they’ve grown up and gone to school in Norway and never have lived in their parents’ home country. The Shabazi family had also pleaded that since they’re Christians, they and their son will face persecution back in Iran. They did not believe immigration officials had evaluated what’s best for their son.

The court ruled, however, that immigration officials and the immigration appeals board UNE had considered what’s best for the children in a defensible manner. That consideration, according to the court, must be weighed up against immigration regulations. There also have been concerns that refugee parents will use their children as a means of getting around such regulations, not least in cases where the parents have little chance of qualifying for asylum.

The lengthy period during which both the Shabazi and Delic children had lived in the country also was linked to the long appeals process they’ve used, seen by some as a means of gaining more time in Norway. In the case of the Delic family, their first rejection of their asylum application came in November 2003, when their daughter was still just a toddler. The high court ruled that decisions on the fate of the children must be made based on the date of initial rejection, not years later.

The Supreme Court ruling was made in a special plenum session, with all 19 high court justices taking part for the first time since 2010 because of the sensitive nature of the case and because the court realized its verdict would have great impact in clarifying Norwegian law regarding refugee children. There was dissent among the 19 justices, but the verdict to uphold the deportation orders against the Delic and Shabazi families was based on a majority opinion.

‘Very disappointed’ and ‘crushed’
Attorneys for the families said their clients were “very disappointed” by the verdict, while the Shabazis were reportedly “crushed.” Their attorney, Arild Humlen, interpreted the decision as meaning that the court sent the thorny issue of refugee children back to Parliament, since it now appears a change in the law would be needed to allow families to stay in Norway after extended presence.

Håkon Bodahl-Johansen, attorney for the Delic family, said the Supreme Court ruling would have “great consequences” for all the other refugee children in Norway who have been in Norway for many years. They risk immediate deportation now as well because it will be “difficult” to win any court appeal. “The highest court has sent a clear message,” Bodahl-Johansen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), meaning it constitutes legal precedent.

Both lawyers are, however, considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after they’ve had a chance to thoroughly read the Norwegian Supreme Court’s verdict.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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