Storm grows over refugee children

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As Norway’s foreign minister traveled to Jordan last week to drum up support for Syrian refugees, in the company of a Hollywood film star, criticism keeps flying at home over his own government’s treatment of a refugee family that was deported back to Jordan the week before. Their case raises more serious questions over whether Norway is violating UN safeguards for refugee children, especially those who have been in Norway for a long time.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide (right, in white shirt) was in Jordan with UN representatives including actress Angelina Jolie (center) to plead the cause of refugees. Just a week earlier, Eide's own government had deported a family whose children had grown up in Norway to, ironically enough, Jordan, and protests have continued over how Norway treated them. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide (right, in white shirt) was in Jordan last week with UN representatives including actress Angelina Jolie (center) to plead the cause of refugees. Just a week earlier, Eide’s own government had deported a family whose children had grown up in Norway to Jordan, and protests have continued over how Norway treated them. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

The dramatic, middle-of-the-night deportation sent the family with four children to Jordan because Norwegian immigration authorities concluded that the children’s parents had lied about their identities. The conclusion came after lengthy appeals and numerous reviews of their case, but the children had spent most if not all their lives in Norway and sympathizers with their cause thought the family thus should be allowed to stay. Their eldest daughter, 12-year-old Neda Ibrahim, had endeared herself to many Norwegians when she told state broadcaster NRK that “I like Norway, but Norway doesn’t like me.”

The debate is over whether Norway is ignoring what’s best for the children in such cases, and whether their strong ties to Norway and lack of connection to their parents’ homeland should take precedence over their parents’ failure to gain asylum. Many opposition politicians and even politicians within the government parties were outraged over the Ibrahim family’s deportation, and have argued strongly in favour of the children in similar cases.

Eide, Jolie and the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called for more international support for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Meanwhile, Eide faced calls for support for a refugee family that spent 10 years in Norway. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode O Andersen

Eide, Jolie and the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called for more international support for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Meanwhile, Eide faced calls back home for support for a refugee family that spent 10 years in Norway. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode O Andersen

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide went to Jordan himself amidst the debate, but not to bring Neda Ibrahim and her family back to Norway or see to their welfare. Rather Eide was in Jordan to mark the UN’s World Refugee Day 2013, in the company of none other than refugee activist and actress Angelina Jolie and the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

While Eide sat in front of a banner claiming that “One family torn apart by war is too many” and nodded while Jolie pleaded for more international support for refugees from the civil war in Syria, politicians back home bashed Eide’s Labour-led government for not supporting 12-year-old Neda Ibrahim and her siblings. Eide’s Labour colleague in charge of asylum legalities, Justice Minister Grete Faremo, had made it clear she wouldn’t reverse the deportation order.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday while debate over refugee treatment in Norway continued. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday while debate over refugee treatment in Norway continued. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

As Eide, Jolie and Guterres visited a refugee camp in the border area between Jordan and Syria and highlighted the cases of children caught in what Eide called “the most serious refugee crisis since World War II,” another of his government colleagues was bemoaning how his own government had treated the Ibrahim children in Norway. Audun Lysbakken, head of the Socialist Left party (SV) who served as government minister in charge of family issues, announced that SV wants to offer automatic residence status to all refugee children (called asylbarn in Norwegian) who have been in Norway for more than three years.

That would encompass around 650 children currently in Norway but whose family’s application for asylum has been rejected. Some opposition politicians from the Christian Democrats have already claimed they’ll travel to Jordan themselves and bring the Ibrahim family back if they win government power at the parliamentary election in September. Humanitarian organizations including Norway’s chapter of Save the Children (Redd Barna) are calling for changes in the law so that children’s best interests are taken into consideration in a consistent manner. They claim, along with researchers and academic experts, that a government report last year entitled Barn på flukt (Children on the run) that was intended to address the needs of refugee children hasn’t had any effect.

“The report was unclear, the Supreme Court has been vague and politicians are paralyzed,” researcher Elisabeth Gording Stang of the Norwegian institute for social research NOVA told newspaper Dagsavisen. “No one is taking any real responsibility for deciding the fate of refugee children.”

‘Cowardly’
While Eide met with, among others, Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour during his two-day stay in Jordan, and hailed the Jordanian government’s aid to Syrian refugees, another of his Labour Party colleagues was being called “cowardly” by another SV politician, even though SV and Labour share government power.

Aksel Hagen, a Member of Parliament for SV, said he all but felt betrayed by Eskil Pedersen, leader of Labour’s youth group AUF. Pedersen, Hagen charged, had been on the front lines with SV in arguing for support for refugee children, but as soon as (justice minister) Faremo failed to stop the deportation, Pedersen immediately gave up the fight. “This is just cowardly and sad,” Hagen told Dagsavisen after Pedersen chose, like Faremo, to note that the government report contended there’s been a 35-45 increase in the number of cases where families are allowed to stay in Norway. Pedersen responded that AUF was still working towards changes and that it was most important to keep “heads cool and hearts warm.”

Back in Jordan, Eide called for more financial support for the Syrian refugees. Norway has granted NOK 575 million (USD 96 million) in aid since the Syrian conflict started in 2011, including NOK 360 million for this year alone.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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