One in six asylum children can stay

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After heated debate, Norway’s coalition parties finally agreed on a new asylum and immigration framework late last week. Children’s right to asylum was one of the central issues, but new figures show the amnesty guidelines settled upon will allow only one in six asylum seeker children to stay in Norway.

Last week the Conservatives (Høyre), Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), Liberals (Venstre) and Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) decided on a “one time solution” as part of the new policy: Asylum seekers’ children who had been in Norway for more than three years could stay in the country with their families, even if the family’s claim had been rejected or had yet to be processed.

On Thursday newspaper Aftenposten reported that not all of Norway’s 798 refugee children in this category will automatically get to stay. Amnesty would only be granted if Norway has a return agreement with the child’s homeland that entered into force after the asylum application was made, or after the child was born. Parents also need to make their child’s identity clear.

According to figures from Norway’s immigration agency UDI, which carried out a study at the request of the justice ministry, an estimated 134, or only one in six asylum children, would actually be eligible for the amnesty.

Lower than expected
The Christian Democrats (KrF) campaigned heavily for amnesty for asylum children. Following last week’s negotiations, party leader Knut Arild Hareide was triumphant that KrF had achieved more in two weeks than the Socialist Left party (SV), long a major supporter of asylum seekers and their rights, had during eight years in government. Hareide was forced to apologize, though, when it became clear the number of children who would actually qualify for amnesty was nowhere near as high as he’d thought.

“Personally, I had hoped that the number was higher, but I’m glad for every child who comes under the scheme,” said KrF immigration spokesman Geir Toskedal. “We would like to go further on this point, but overall we are happy with the agreement.”

“134 is a very low figure, and a huge disappointment for the many children who had hoped that they could stay,” SV leader Audun Lysbakken told Aftenposten. “It’s also the final proof that the Liberals and Christian Democrats oversold their impact last autumn.”

Permanent policy
In addition to his dissatisfaction with the “one time solution,” Lysbakken also criticized the goverment’s proposed permanent regulations. A decision about a child must be “academically justifiable,” which is weighed more strongly than the immigration control considerations. The government said children’s academic grounds include the child’s age, how long he or she has lived in Norway, and the language the child speaks. These would be a factor in deciding if a family gets to stay.

“If it had been a lasting solution that included many children, it would not have been so bad that the ‘one time solution’ is poor,” he argued. “But now Erna Solberg still sits with the problem of hundreds of asylum children.”

Lasting solution
The Liberal Party’s Iselin Nybø said the most important thing was to reach a stable agreement. “What has been the Liberals’ first priority is to establish a lasting solution with a rule change where children’s academic considerations should be given greater weight,” she said.

Toskedal of KrF agreed. “We believe that the child’s academic considerations give children greater protection,” he said.

Lawyer and researcher Elisabeth Gording Stang from the University of Oslo told Aftenposten she’s not surprised how few children will be eligible for the one-time amnesty. While she was unsure how many children have come from countries with return agreements, the identity factor could present a major issue. “Sometimes it may be necessary to obtain false papers when you’re on the run, because to travel with their own name is too dangerous,” she said. “Others are committing a crime and therefore have false identities. We should have a system that separates these better.”

Stang also criticized the proposed permanent policy, saying it adds nothing new. She said a child’s “academic considerations” is just a soft version of a child’s “best interests,” terms loaded with compromise, and argued there’s still no clarification on whether best interests of immigration control issues will take precedence.

The issue of asylum seekers’ children who grow up in Norway before being deported came to a head last year, when the case of 12-year-old Neda Ibrahim and her family sparked wide debate on whether the rights of refugee children should take precedence over immigration laws. The new proposed reforms reportedly will not affect the Ibrahim family’s deportation to Jordan.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate