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Monday, July 22, 2024

Deported criminals keep coming back

Foreigners convicted of crimes in Norway have been deported at a much higher rate in recent years, but statistics previously withheld by the government show that hundreds of them have managed to return despite being officially barred from re-entry. They’re often discovered only when they commit new crimes and are arrested once again, but sometimes not even then.

“They take a calculated risk,” police lawyer Kjell Johan Abrahamsen told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. He said the punishment they risk by returning to Norway is “simply too mild” and they’re not scared off by another stay in a Norwegian prison. “Norway has nice prisons, and they know that inmates also get NOK 57 (around USD 10) a day,” Abrahamsen said.

One convicted foreign smuggler admitted in court that even if he’s deported from Norway 100 times, he’ll keep coming back. “That’s an example of how little effective today’s punishment level is,” another police lawyer, John Skarpeid, told Aftenposten. “And it’s a fact that we have quite a lot of repeat offenders.”

Nearly 500 discovered in past two years
Aftenposten reported that 794 foreign convicts were sent out of the country in 2011 with what’s called innreiseforbud, a formal order that they’re not allowed re-entry to Norway. Another 1,019 foreign convicts were deported last year with similar orders, part of a concerted effort by the government to enforce Norwegian law allowing such banishment when foreign nationals have committed crimes.

Police ended up discovering, however, that fully 497 foreign convicts who had been sent out of the country after serving their prison terms showed up in Norway again in 2011 and 2012. They’d managed to either slip in unseen or had passed through border controls using forged documents.

The statistics obtained and reported by Aftenposten reveal serious problems in the government’s efforts to control and enforce its own deportation drive. The statistics were compiled by the state police directorate but withheld by the Justice Ministry, allegedly out of “consideration to internal case handling.” They were released after a complaint was filed over the effort to keep them secret.

Each deportation costs an estimated NOK 50,000 (USD 9,000) because of the paperwork and transport involved, often including police escorts. The state police expects to spend as much as NOK 250 million this year to deport another 4,700 foreigners who either are convicted of crimes or had applications for asylum in Norway rejected.

Thriving in Norway
The foreign criminals, as illustrated by the case of one young man from Albania, apparently thrive in Norway and want to return. Aftenposten reported that on April 5 of last year, for example, the 29-year-old Albanian was deported after having been convicted of human trafficking and making death threats in Bergen. He’d been sentenced to 39 months in prison but since he was subject to deportation, his sentence was reduced by 300 days and he was forcibly sent out of the country when it had been served with orders not to return.

Within a few months, however, he was back in Norway. Police discovered him when he was arrested once again for ransacking several homes in the fashionable Frogner and Bygdøy districts of Oslo. In his case, he’d obtained a false passport with a new identity. “They often operate with new names and forged documents,” Morten Reppen, a police attorney, told Aftenposten. “Therefore it can be difficult to discover that persons had been deported even when they’re caught.”

Reppen confirmed that frustration is running high within the police, not least when the punishment against deportees who have violated re-entry bans is mild. Aftenposten reported that many avoid prosecution entirely, with 146, or 30 percent, of those found to be back in Norway escaping new charges. Others, caught committing new crimes, have received prison terms that police regard as much too short.

“It’s hopeless when not much happens against those who violate re-entry bans,” Reppen told Aftenposten. “The mild punishment doesn’t have much preventative effect. They’re not scared off when they at worst must spend four or five weeks in jail.” Norwegian prisons have been referred to as “hotels” by some foreign criminals accustomed to much worse prisons conditions back home.

Proposed changes in the law and punishments are in the works, with the Justice Ministry working on ways of sending foreign convicts right back out of Norway again and making punishments more severe. Norway has also been working on agreements with other countries including Lithuania to deport their citizens convicted of crimes in Norway immediately, to serve their terms in their homeland’s prisons. Efforts are also being made to catch more returning convicts trying to cross Norway’s long border to Sweden.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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