Most refugees are now from Syria

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After years of receiving most of its refugees from Eritrea and Somalia, Norway is now seeing the biggest increase among those fleeing the civil war in Syria. More arrived in Norway from Syria in both August and September, and officials at immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) expect the numbers to keep rising.

Syrian children at the opening of a Norwegian football project for young refugees at the Zatari refugee camp in Jordan last June. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

Syrian children at the opening of a Norwegian football project for young refugees at the Zatari refugee camp in Jordan last year. Norway has helped fund facilities at refugee camps but balked at increasing its quota of 1,000 refugees in Norway. Meanwhile, another 1,413 have arrived in Norway on their own. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

Fresh statistics from UDI show that 252 Syrian refugees arrived on their own in Norway in August and 281 in September. All told, 1,413 Syrian refugees have made their way to Norway so far this year, in addition to the 1,000 refugees that the Norwegian government has agreed to accept from refugee camps set up around Syria and among those otherwise enrolled with official refugee programs.

That’s still less than the 2,517 refugees arriving in Norway so far this year from Eritrea, but Syrian refugees outpaced the 183 Eritreans who arrived in August and the 226 who came to Norway in September.

“Syria has taken over as the country from which we’re getting the largest number of asylum applications,” Frode Forfang, director of UDI, told newspaper Dagsavisen. Other countries producing the largest numbers of refugees in Norway include Somalia (643 so far this year), Sudan (614) and Afghanistan (372). The number of “stateless” refugees was 546 by the end of September.

The Norwegian government has proposed accepting another thousand Syrian refugees next year through UN programs but critics claim that’s far from enough given the 3 million Syrians now fleeing the ravages of civil war and Islamic extremists. A majority of political parties in the Norwegian Parliament wants Norway to accept more, and criticism rose last week that the government hadn’t provided for  more than another 1,000 in its state budget proposal for next year.

“The government doesn’t seem to care about the majority in Parliament,” claimed Helga Pedersen of the Labour Party. The minority government coalition made up of the Conservatives and the Progress Party argue that it’s more effective to send aid to refugees where they are, in case they someday can return to their homes in Syria.

Karin Andersen of the Socialist Left Party (SV) is calling for acceptance of at least 5,000 Syrian refugees next year. Other parties won’t accept such a high number for Norway, which, as a small country, faces challenges in finding homes for them. Labour, the Center Party, SV and, most importantly, the government support parties (The Liberals and the Christian Democrats) are demanding more, however, so that’s certain to be a heated item during budget negotiations this fall.

More of those accepted through the quotas agreed with the UN have been arriving in Norway, mostly families with small children who are viewed as most able to integrate and adapt to life in Norway. One family from Aleppo, who fled bombs, extremist Islamists and a hopeless future, were thrilled to be accepted while another family arriving at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen expressed relief and gratitude. They were met by a welcoming committee and will be re-settled in Drammen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund