Norway’s outgoing left-center government wants to take in 1,000 refugees from Syria and offer them permanent resident status. It’s a tiny portion of the roughly 2 million Syrians who have fled civil war in their homeland, but the UN thinks it can help save lives.
The Norwegian government’s move, which must be approved by the new parliament in which the government parties no longer have a majority, is aimed at helping not only the UN but the countries bordering Syria in placing the refugees in safe havens.
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Jordan earlier this year and witnessed what many describe as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
“The reason we want to do this is that the refugee catastrophe in Syria just gets bigger and bigger, and neighbouring countries are about to collapse under the pressure,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Lebanon alone has more than 730,000 refugees. That means that every fourth resident of Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee.”
Eide said that the UN’s High Commissioner for refugees worries that if other countries don’t do more to help ease the pressure, the countries bordering on Syria won’t be able to take in any more.
The Syrian refugees, according to the government plan, would be placed in various Norwegian townships around the country, and won’t arrive in Norway for another few months. Capacity at Norway’s asylum centers must first be expanded and the program is estimated to cost as much as NOK 770 million (USD 128 million). It would require special funding approval in the new state budget.
Several other parties in addition to Eide’s Labour Party support the proposal, including the Socialist Left party (SV), the Chrisian Democrats and the Liberals. “This is about decency, people on the run and the risk of countries on the verge of collapse, and then those of use in Norway help out,” said Inga Marte Thorkildsen, SV’s outgoing minister in charge of family issues.
The Syrian refugee proposal already is splitting the four non-socialist parties currently negotiating to form a new government. While the Liberals and the Christian Democrats welcome it, the conservative Progress Party would prefer to offer “good and effective help” in the areas where the refugees already are. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen claimed that would help “many many more people” than just the thousand who might come to Norway.
The issue will be up for debate when the new parliament convenes next month.