Syrian refugees rose by 177 percent

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UPDATED: The number of people seeking asylum in Norway rose sharply in the first half of 2014, hitting a five-year high. Immigration agency UDI’s half yearly figures showed 5,341 people sought asylum so far this year, with almost half coming from Syria and Eritrea.

Brende also opened a football field for girls supported by Norway at the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Ragnhild Imerslund

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende at a state-sponsored football field in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan late last year. The civil war drove a 177 percent increase in the number of Syrians seeking asylum in Norway in the first half of 2014. UDI said overall refugee numbers are at a five year high. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Ragnhild Imerslund

There was a 177 percent increase in the number of Syrian refugees and a 136 percent rise in those seeking asylum from Eritrea, compared to the same period last year said UDI. Meanwhile, applicants from Somalia and Afghanistan had dropped away. Overall, there was a seven percent rise in the total number of asylum seekers, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Norway is likely to receive far more asylum seekers than the 11,000 that we estimated would come this year,” said UDI director Frode Forfang.

UDI was struggling to process the unexpected influx. Forfang said every applicant was currently from Syria, and applications reached record levels in May and June while the Syrian civil war dragged on. He said those were traditionally quieter times but UDI was now completely inundated, dragging out the process for applicants. “We’re struggling with the case handling capacity,” said Forfang. “Last year we had a peak in August, and we don’t know if the growth we saw in May and June will continue.”

“No Syrians will be sent back from Norway now,” Forfang said. “We expect that the percentage who get granted permits this year will increase from the current 64 percent, especially considering the Syrian situation.”

He said UDI tends to prioritize cases which can be quickly dismissed, including “manifestly unfounded” asylum applications, criminals, and those who should be processed in the country where they originally entered Europe. Unaccompanied minors were also a priority. Groups whose claims would probably be upheld must wait in asylum centers until the authorities could process their cases later in the year.

Norway’s numbers paled in comparison to the stream of refugees into other European countries. Germany gets the most, but there is also strong growth in Sweden, Italy and France. Sweden received more than six times as many asylum seekers as Norway already this year, and 17 times more Syrians.

Struggling with rejected applicants
UDI admitted it struggled to deport those who refused to voluntarily leave Norway after their asylum claims were rejected, reported newspaper Aftenposten. More than 5,000 people remained living in Norwegian asylum centers, despite having received their final rejections. In 2008, Statistics Norway (Statistisk Sentralbyrå, SSB) estimated there were around 18,000 foreigners living illegally in Norway, but said that figure had a margin of error between 10,000 to 32,000. Two thirds are thought to be rejected asylum seekers.

“There is every reason to believe that the number has grown since 2008,” said Forfang. “We know where some are, but far from all. Last year the Police Immigration Service (Politiets utlendingsenhet, PU) deported 5,934 people, which is a record high number, but very few of these – only 1,270 – were former asylum seekers who were sent back to their country of origin.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate