Politicians clash over immigration

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Negotiations over a proposed tightening of Norway’s asylum and immigration laws have stranded once again. Politicians from the two parties that have generally agreed to support the new Conservatives-led coalition government said their differences were simply too great to keep talking, but another meeting is set for later in the week.

Several politicians from the coalition’s so-called “support parties,” the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) and the Liberals (Venstre), also expressed irritation over what they called “loose canons” in the coalition’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). Some of Frp’s most highly vocal and conservative members have made demands and expressed views that don’t reflect the more conciliatory tone of Frp ministers in the new government, leading to confusion and frustration.

Offended ‘mini-parties’
Among the alleged “loose canons” is Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a Member of Parliament for Frp who long has called for major cuts in the number of immigrants and asylum seekers allowed to enter Norway. On Monday, when talks on law changes were set to begin, he fired off another string of demands and offended his government’s support parties by telling NRK that “we can’t have a minority dictatorship made up of two mini-parties with less than 5 percent of the vote deciding on the country’s future as regards asylum and immigration.”

His remarks came just a day after another “loose canon,” former Frp leader Carl I Hagen, told newspaper Dagbladet that he would support oil drilling off Lofoten if Norway doesn’t impose stricter immigration policies.

That sort of tone from two top politicians in one of the coalition’s two parties irritated both the Christian Democrats (KrF) and the Liberals. “I wish the party (Frp) would behave in a more unified manner and not send out such different signals,” Geir Jørgen Bekkevold of KrF told newspaper Dagsavisen. Sveinung Rotevatn of the Liberals said that it seemed Tybring-Gjedde would rather see his party lose the government power it finally won last fall for the first time, than compromise on immigration issues. “And that’s actually a bigger problem for Frp that it is for us,” Rotevatn told Dagsavisen.

Strategy or real split?
It’s at least a challenge for Progress Party (Frp) leader Siv Jensen and her fellow government ministers from Frp who have worked hard to tone down the party’s rhetoric and make the party more willing to compromise on heated issues, in order to achieve at least some of their government goals. Yet Jensen hasn’t made any major moves to correct either Tybring-Gjedde, Hagen or another particularly outspoken Frp member who also loves the media spotlight, Per Sandberg.

Commentators remain unsure whether the regular outbursts from Frp politicians like Hagen, Sandberg and Tybring-Gjedde are part of a conscious strategy to placate the party’s most right-leaning members or whether they are signs of true division within the party. It’s a paradox, at any rate, that some members of the party that fought for 40 years to win government power are now making things very hard for their own party leaders now in the government.

Thorny immigration issues
Talks on new asylum and immigration policy were part of the agreement struck last fall between Frp and the Conservatives (Høyre) as members of the minority coalition government on the one side, and KrF and Vesntre as their potential support parties in parliament on the other side. Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, like Jensen one of the more conciliatory politicians for Frp, has said that the new asylum and immigration law should be hammered out by Christmas.

It’s expected to include stricter rules regarding such issues as the fate of the children of rejected refugees (called asylbarna in Norway), how family reunification can be allowed, how deportation centers should be formed and how many locked asylum centers Norway should have. Rules regarding such things as income requirements for new immigrants and residence permission for foreign spouses are also up for debate.

Last year Norway granted residence permission to 33,800 immigrants from countries outside the European Union and its economic cooperation area of which Norway is a member. They included 11,900 persons who came to Norway because of marriage to a Norwegian or family reunification, 8,300 who arrived because of work, 6,900 who arrived as asylum seekers and 6,700 who came to study.

The vast majority of immigrants securing residence permission came from the Philippines, followed by Eritrea, Somalia, India, the US, Russia, China, Thailand and Vietnam, according to statistics from immigration agency UDI.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund