The head of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI), Frode Forfang, said the practice of deporting foreign mothers while their children remain in Norwegian foster care needs to change. His comments followed criticism from the Nigerian ambassador on Wednesday over a number of cases where families have been separated over the last two years.
“It is not appropriate to separate children from their mother and send the mother out of the country,” ambassador Benedict Onochie Amobi told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Losing the child and then being sent out of the country is like receiving a double punishment.”
The head of the Immigration Appeals Board (Utlendingsnemnda, UNE) confirmed there have been about 15 such cases involving Nigerian women over the last two years. “We have maybe five to 10 cases a year, sometimes more, where the situation is that child welfare (barnevernet) has taken over care of the children for a parent who has a case before UNE,” said Anne Bruland.
She said the situation arises because the decisions are divided between different departments. Child welfare decides whether to take children into care, while the appeals board decides who can stay in Norway. “We have different missions,” Bruland explained.
In one case against a Nigerian mother living in Norway, a court ruled the child should be taken into care. The woman was granted the right to see her child three times a year. The Immigration Appeals Board was aware of the woman’s visitation rights when her case came before the tribunal, but she was not granted a residence permit.
“It must be contrary to international law when children remain here in the country and the mothers are sent back,” said Maggi Rødvik, the lawyer for several of the Nigerian women. While the right to visit their children remained, she said in practice that was impossible for many of the mothers. “Often they will have problems with getting visas to Norway later.”
UDI: unnecessary to split families
“In these cases we should consider several possibilities before we take the drastic step that it is to split families,” UDI chief Frode Forfang told NRK. “We must realize that some of these families are in an exceptional situation when they’re residing illegally or as asylum seekers in Norway. We can not discount the possibility that some of the problems they have with caring for their children are situational. It’s not a given that they will have the same care problems in their homeland. Therefore it’s important that we consider these aspects of the case.”
Forfang argued municipal child protection authorities should not be able to take children into care when their families are facing immigration cases. Rather, he said a central scheme was needed so child welfare and immigration authorities could collaborate, and take responsibility for looking into care solutions in the family’s homeland.
The Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Minister Solveig Horne of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) said it was difficult for Norway to intervene in a child’s care in other countries. “Child welfare in Norway has no authority beyond national borders, while many of the countries don’t have a good enough child protection system,” she said. “Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that all children have a right to be protected.”
Horne said there would be an investigation into better cooperation between child welfare and UNE, more education for those working in child protection about the issues minority families face, and more help for immigrant families struggling to understand Norwegian law.