More asylum seekers under wraps

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The number of asylum seekers needing extra protection, or whose applications are considered especially sensitive in Norway, has nearly quadrupled in the past five years. Immigration authorities are now handling 775 cases involving skjermede personer – persons whose identities are being kept firmly under wraps.

In such cases, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday, neither employees of the police, the justice ministry, the state tax office nor the immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) will have access  to the files of the asylum seeker involved unless they are the case workers. All personal information on the asylum applicant is rendered inaccessible, and even paper documents are stored in locked cabinets.

Special needs
The secrecy is linked to a need to protect persons subject to threats or violence, or even to protect the national security in Norway. The asylum seekers may, for example, be subject to persecution in their home countries, or their home countries may not look kindly upon Norway offering them shelter. Status as “skjermede” can be granted, according to UDI rules, out of consideration for Norwegian foreign policy.

A total of 1,857 persons have been placed under such special status since 2004, when immigration officials recognized a need for special handling of sensitive cases, and after details of some such cases had been leaked to the media. The persons involved can also be given aliases for their own protection.

Most are refugees who have come to the attention of Norwegian diplomats, who can be directly involved in their cases and who can instruct immigration officials as to how the cases should be handled.

Most from Afghanistan and Iraq
“Right now people from Afghanistan make up a large portion of this group,” Ingeborg Grimsmo, communications director at UDI, told Aftenposten. Among them are Afghan interpreters who worked for Norwegian forces involved in the NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan over the past decade, and were in danger after the Norwegian forces withdrew.

Grimsmo said that earlier, the group included a large portion of asylum seekers from Iraq.

UDI couldn’t answer how many of the asylum seekers with special status actually are granted asylum in Norway, but Aftenposten reported that most as a rule secure permanent resident status.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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