Nathan’s family can stay in Norway

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UPDATED: The family of a little boy born in Bergen to refugees from Ethiopia was back in the national news this week and relieved after winning a court victory allowing them to remain in Norway. Their relief could turn to joy on Wednesday, when Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that immigration authorities wouldn’t appeal the ruling in favour of seven-year-old Nathan Eshete.

Seven-year-old Nathan Eshete has become a celebrity of sorts in Norway over his family's battle to remain in Norway even though his parents' application for asylum was rejected. Here, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) interviewed Nathan's father Asfaw Eshete after their court victory against immigration authorities on Tuesday. At right, Nathan's relieved mother Zinash Assefa. PHOTO; NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Seven-year-old Nathan Eshete has become a celebrity of sorts in Norway over his family’s battle to remain in Norway even though his parents’ application for asylum was rejected. Here, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) interviewed Nathan’s father Asfaw Eshete after their court victory against immigration authorities on Tuesday. At right, Nathan’s relieved mother Zinash Assefa. PHOTO; NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Young Nathan, as he’s widely known, has put an endearing face on the plight of hundreds of children of asylum seekers in Norway, called asylbarna. Many, like Nathan, have grown up in Norway and even been born in Norway, but their parents’ applications for asylum were rejected and the government is thus obliged to send them home. For the children, Norway is home, but even politicians advocating more liberal immigration laws have insisted that parents can’t be allowed to use their children as a means of getting around asylum requirements.

A court in Oslo ruled Tuesday that in Nathan’s case, immigration authorities failed to document well enough why they thought Nathan lacked adequate ties to Norway, and why they thought it was not in his best interests to be allowed to stay in Norway. The ultimate test in such cases is establishing what’s in the best interests of the child. Nathan has no direct personal ties to the country his parents fled, Ethiopia, and has only known Norway as his home. He had testified in court himself last month about his life in Norway, his friends and dreams of becoming a policeman or a football player. His teacher testified that his best subject was Norwegian language studies.

The court ruled that the country’s immigration appeals board UNE, which had rejected the asylum application from Nathan and his parents, hadn’t done enough evaluation of such things themselves, and couldn’t counter Nathan’s own poignant arguments. They lost the case, and Nathan and his parents won.

UNE was entitled to appeal the ruling but there already had been speculation that UNE was poised to settle with Nathan’s parents, who also have become spokespersons for rejected refugees in Norway. They have enjoyed massive public support, not least in Bergen where they’ve been living, and Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party (SV) that’s a member of the ruling government coalition told reporters that he’d hoped UNE would not appeal. So had several other elected officials at the state and local level, from both ends of the political spectrum.

NRK reported Wednesday afternoon that UNE, which had four weeks to decide whether to appeal, already has decided not to, out of consideration to the child. UNE officials confirmed their decision to let the ruling stand.

“We disagree with the court’s evaluation,” UNE director Ingunn-Sofie Aursnes told newspaper Dagsavisen. She added, though, that even if UNE won on appeal, the family could have been granted residence permission anyway because of  the additional time that would have elapsed. “Then it’s not right to subject Nathan to an appeals process,” Aursnes said, noting it could have taken another two years.

Nathan’s case won’t necessarily set a precedent, either, “because all the cases involving children are different,” Aursnes said. Other cases filed by rejected asylum seekers with children have gone all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of UNE in December and upheld the deportation orders for two other asylbarn aged 10 and nine.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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