‘Underclass’ emerges as jobs dry up

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Lines have been forming every day outside the offices of the Norwegian Red Cross in Oslo,  with unemployed people waiting for hours to secure a bed for the night. Most are job seekers from southern and eastern Europe, who haven’t found the work and paychecks they need.

“This isn’t just an economic crisis any longer,” Åsne Havnelid, secretary general for the Norwegian Red Cross, told newspaper Dagsavisen recently. “This is becoming the worst humanitarian crisis Europe has gone through since World War II. We see that the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger.”

Job seekers disappointed
To narrow it, increasing numbers of out-of-work and now impoverished residents of Portugal, Spain, Romania, Italy, Greece and other countries have arrived in Oslo in the hopes of finding work in wealthy Norway. They’re increasingly disappointed, as even Norway’s robust, oil-fed economy is showing signs of slowdown. Construction jobs in Oslo have declined, for example, as have those in the service industries, with the most mobile and skilled migrants heading for western Norway, where prospects may be better.

The new job migrants also face tough competition from residents of neighbouring Sweden who can communicate with Norwegians in their own languages. Those arriving from Europe who have poor English skills in addition to a total lack of familiarity with the Norwegian language come worst out in the job market.

Some are calling them the “new underclass” in Norway, and the situation has become so acute in Oslo that the Red Cross and the humanitarian organization Kirkens Bymisjon began offering emergency shelter. For a token fee of NOK 15, reports Dagsavisen, the most desperate jobless can get a bed to sleep in and access to showers and a toilet, as long as they’re among the first in line when registration opens at 6pm. Then they need to wait another hour before the accommodation in Oslo’s St Hanshaugen neighbourhood opens for the night.

Advised to ‘go home’
Government officials started warning already last year that would-be immigrants seeking jobs in Norway should go home if they don’t find work quickly. Now it’s harder to find work as Oslo’s overall unemployment rate started to rise, and other welfare organizations like Caritas Norge are having trouble helping the new arrivals.

The situation is also giving rise to cases of human trafficking in Norway. Earlier this month a 42-year-old man from Solbergelva was jailed, suspected of having provided labourers for farmers in Buskerud County at extremely low wages.

“The cases we’re seeing are merely the tip of the ice berg,” Geir Gamborg Nielsen of the labour organization Norsk Arbeidsmandsforbund, told newspaper Dagbladet. “What we see happening is very scary.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund