Norway sets terms for Syrian refugees

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Norwegian authorities are willing to take in refugee families with children when they start granting asylum to another 1,000 displaced Syrians later this year, but they don’t want refugees who have been actively fighting in Syria’s civil war. Immigration officials claim it’s simply easiest to resettle intact families.

Residents sort out some of their belongings at the Zatari refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan. Norway has offered to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees, including 300 now in Jordan, 300 in Lebanon and 400 in Turkey. Sweden, by comparison, has already taken in 16,000 Syrian regufees. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

Residents sort out some of their belongings at the Zatari refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan. Norway has offered to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees, including 300 now in Jordan, 300 in Lebanon and 400 in Turkey. Sweden, by comparison, has already taken in 16,000 Syrian regufees. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

“We want families of not more than eight persons,” Tonje Øyan of immigration agency UDI  told newspaper Aftenposten. “We don’t want to take in people who can be excluded from gaining refugee status because they have taken part in war crimes.”

That means that no one who has actively participated in the fighting in Syria will be offered asylum by Norway, Øyan confirmed. She said it doesn’t matter which side anyone was fighting for, either the regime or the opposition.

Assaults, many of them likely amounting to war crimes, are being carried out every day, Øyan said, “therefore we will be interviewing people about their backgrounds.” Anyone suspected of wanting to travel back to Syria to continue the fight will also be weeded out of the potential refugee stream to Norway.

UDI is getting assistance from both the Norwegian state police unit Kripos and the police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) as UDI staff starts interviewing refugees now living in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. PST’s job is to help ensure that Syrian refugees taken in by Norway won’t later pose a threat to Norway’s national security.

Refugees’ need for protection is usually evaluated after they arrive in Norway, when the lengthy process of establishing their identity and background begins. When Norway offers asylum to 1,000 Syrians, though, all the paperwork is due to be completed before they arrive. Aftenposten reported that Norwegian officials visited Syria’s neighbouring countries last week to plan for the intake of refugees later this spring.

The Norwegian officials have also stressed their criteria in discussions with the UN’s refugee commission, which needs countries to take in Syrian refugees now languishing in camps. Norway also doesn’t want to accept families who may seek further family reunification later.

More than 2.5 million people have fled the civil war in Syria since 2011. Several more millions have been displaced within Syria in what’s been described, not least by Norway’s own foreign ministry, as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The enormous numbers of refugees crossing the borders into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey has put a huge burden on those countries as well, and Norway has repeatedly claimed that it’s committed to help.

The sheer numbers of refugees coming to Norway, though, are extremely small compared to the needs for resettlement and the numbers taken in by other countries. Sweden, for example, took in more than 16,000 Syrian asylum seekers last year, compared to 856 in Norway. The Norwegian government has, however, donated hundreds of millions of kroner to aid refugees where they now find themselves.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund