Norway halts flow of Syrian refugees

Bookmark and Share

Refugees from the Syrian civil war have finally started arriving in Norway, but now Norwegian authorities are hesitating to take in more. Many of those whom the United Nations wants to send to Norway are ill, handicapped children and others left disabled by bombs, and Norwegian officials contend the local communities where they’re supposed to settle won’t be able to care for them.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende met with Syrian refugee children in Beirut earlier this month, at school programs financed by Norway, but now the government is balking at taking in more refugees who are sick and injured. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende met with Syrian refugee children in Beirut earlier this month, at school programs financed by Norway, but now the government is balking at taking in more refugees who are sick and injured. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Monday that one in four of the Syrian refugees being sent to Norway have major needs for long-term health care. Local communities around the country that had agreed to take them in are now sounding the alarms, and have told immigration authorities that they lack capacity to accommodate them.

That prompted the immigrations officials to send an urgent message to the Justice Ministry last month, claiming it had become “demanding” to fill Norway’s quota of 1,000 refugees. Of them, 625 are due to come from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon and 375 from refugee camps in Turkey.

‘Disappointing’
The Norwegian government has already been criticized for accepting only what Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre) calls “a mere drop” in the flood of Syrian refugees needing new homes. Millions have had to flee war and destruction in Syria, and many have already long been languishing in refugee camps. Karin Andersen, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), proposed taking in up to 5,000 refugees, but failed to get support from other parties. “It’s especially disappointing that neither the Labour Party, the Center Party, the Liberals or the Christian Democrats want to support our proposal,” Andersen told newspaper Dagsavisen earlier this month. “Norway must take its share of responsibility for refugees who need protection.”

The other parties argued that Norway already has several thousand refugees from other countries who haven’t been resettled yet. Norway has donated large amounts of funding to help take care of Syrian refugees in UN-run camps, but hasn’t been as willing to bring them to Norway.

A total of 108 have landed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen during the last week, reported UDI. Those arriving have already been screened at camps in Lebanon and Jordan and received residence permission in Norway. Now it’s up to local communities to start settling them. The refugees being interviewed in Turkey are expected to arrive later this year.

‘Dilemma’
But now the process has been interrupted, because of settlement and integration concerns. Norway’s government agreed to take in families with children, believing they’d integrate most easily into Norway. The high rate of illness and serious injury among them, though, has caused concerns: “It’s putting pressure on the communities and health care system that we must take into consideration,” Justice Minister Anders Anundsen told Aftenposten. “We have a dilemma: We want to help those who need help, and all refugees need help. At the same time we must consider the challenges we have in Norway.”

Nonsense, replied critics, including the government’s support parties, who scolded the authorities for only being willing, it seemed, to take in healthy, uninjured refugees. “We can’t accept this,” said Geir Bekkevold of the Christian Democrats, which was part of negotiations with the government to accept more refugees last fall. “We can’t hesitate to take in injured and traumatized refugees from Syria.” Skei Grande of the Liberals agreed.

“I expect the government to work something out here,” she told Aftenposten. “I won’t accept us not filling our quota because politicians made rules that aren’t meshing with reality.” Her message to Anundsen: “Fix it.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund