New immigration law clears hurdles

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UPDATED: Government politicians and their potential supporters in Parliament were all ready to announce a truce Thursday night in their squabble over asylum and immigration reform, but last-minute disagreements halted their plans. They agreed on the substance of a new proposed immigration law, though, and finally managed to present it Friday afternoon.

The quarreling politicians had made progress earlier in the week, with all four parties involved able to claim some victories in gaining acceptance for their views. The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), for example, succeeded in gaining support for its contention that more asylum centers be locked facilities, thus controlling the comings and goings of their residents and visitors. The Liberal Party (Venstre) won support for its efforts to let more children of asylum seekers remain in Norway, with their families, even though their parents’ asylum applications were rejected.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg stepped in to iron out final differences, for example over how binding the government’s pact with Venstre and KrF will be in the long term, and told reporters at an afternoon press conference that there was “give and take” among all four parties.

Frp and Venstre most at odds
Frp, a member of Norway’s government coalition along with the Conservative Party (Høyre), has been most at odds with Venstre and the other small party, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF), over asylum and immigration issues. Frp has long called for more restrictions on the numbers of refugees and other immigrants allowed into Norway, while Venstre and KrF are more open to immigration. Even though Frp and Høyre won last fall’s national election, they failed to win a majority of seats in Parliament, thus the need to secure backing from their two so-called støttepartier (“support parties”).

Dagsavisen has reported that the two government parties and their two support parties also have agreed to only allow immigration based on marriage to a Norwegian citizen or permanent resident if both involved are 24 years of age or older. At the same time, some exceptions can be made regarding income requirements for newcomers to Norway. Asylum seekers applying through UN quotas will be ranked in accordance with how well authorities think they will integrate into Norwegian society, and rules granting asylum to persons on the grounds of their religion or sexual preference will be harmonized with those of the EU and UN.

Not ready for the 9 o’clock news
All of this was supposed to be presented at a press conference at the Parliament in time for the 9pm nightly newscasts on Thursday, but last-minute differences prevented any announcements. The differences arose after Frp mentioned that it wanted to secure itself the right to form new asylum policies outside of the agreement with Venstre and KrF in the years ahead. The government parties balked at being forever bound by the pact, while Venstre and KrF want to hold them to it.

They thus all went their separate ways Thursday night after a week of negotiating sessions. It was unclear when any announcement of a new immigration law would come, frustrating not least several families waiting to see whether they’ll be able to remain in Norway or be deported.

“We feel we fled from a physical war to a psychic war,” Lutf Muhammed Ubad, father of a family from Yemen seeking asylum, told Dagsavisen. “Our children have been here for more than four years now, and we need to know whether we can all stay or must we return.” The family is living at an asylum center in Skedsmo and, like many others, continued to face an uncertain future but got news on Friday: Families with children who have lived in Norway for more than three years can stay, if their identity was confirmed and they came from countries with repatriation agreements.

Solberg stepped in
Norwegian Broadcsting (NRK) reported that Prime Minister Erna Solberg had stepped in with the goal of breaking the deadlock. Solberg confirmed to news bureau NTB that she became directly engaged in the negotiations between Høyre/Frp and Venstre/KrF, at the very least to discuss how they can all cooperate in to order achieve political results. Much of the problem, though, was linked to internal divisions within Frp, with its most vehemently anti-immigration politicians at odds with Frp leaders willing to make compromises for the sake of government power.

On Friday Solberg could finally present a unified front at the press conference, flanked by Venstre Leader Trine Skei Grande, Jensen and Dagrun Eriksen of KrF. Jensen claimed she was “very satisfied” with the agreement in the end, claiming that the tightening of some areas of the law were in line with Frp’s policies.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund