State needs more asylum centers

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A resurgence of asylum seekers arriving in Norway this year has created a need for as many as 40 new asylum centers around the country, according to state immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet). State officials are calling on local townships to cooperate in the need to house new refugees.

Stricter requirements for asylum had led to a marked decline in the numbers of those seeking refuge in Norway, but the tide has turned again, reports UDI director Frode Forfang. “There has been a major increase in the number of asylum seekers,” he told reporters on Thursday. “We have seen numbers that begin to approach the record set in 2009.”

Arrivals up 30 percent
A total of 1,616 asylum seekers came to Norway last month alone, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia. That’s the highest number in a single month since September 2009, according to figures complied by UDI, which is also bracing for an influx of refugees from Syria.

More than 17,000 people claiming a need for protection and residence in Norway arrived in the record-setting year of 2009. More than 8,000 have arrived in Norway so far this year, up 30 percent during the same period last year.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Thursday that Forgang expects at least 14,000 new arrivals by the end of the year and thinks the amount will increase next year. That means UDI needs to be prepared to take in around 19,000 asylum seekers, hence the need for at least 30 new asylum centers and possibly as many as 40.

Need local cooperation
“We will soon call for construction bids,” said Christine Wilberg of UDI, adding that it was still too early to say where the new centers will be located. They need cooperation from local governments willing to host the centers, and claim that only a small percentage of asylum seekers cause problems in the communities where they’re housed.

“In recent years an image has been created that links asylum seekers with crime, and that’s led to fear where we want to set up asylum centers,” Forfang said. He claims such fears are unfounded, because the vast majority of refugees are “law-abiding persons,” with those from Eritrea, for example, “almost complete absent from the crime statistics.”

There have been serious problems, however, at a number of asylum centers in the Oslo area and complaints have been reported about living conditions at others, including the Hvalsmoen center in Hønefoss. One young woman who lived at Hvalsmoen told newspaper Dagsavisen last month that she lived in fear of being assaulted at the Hvalsmoen center, while a former volunteer who taught Norwegian courses at the center confirmed reports of a lack of cleanliness, poor health care, poor food and a lack of activities or programs for the refugees who can become bored and restless while waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. The humanitarian group Norsk Folkehjelp, which runs the Hvalsmoen center, blamed the poor conditions on tight budgets.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund