Justice minister settles asylum conflict

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Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the conservative Progress Party has been under pressure for weeks, with opposition parties and media accusing him of failing to follow through on an agreement to “be more humane” in deportations of refugee children. Now he and the government’s two support parties, with whom the agreement was struck last year, have finally settled their differences and more refugee families may be able to stay in Norway.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen has promised to crack down on refugees whose asylum claims have been rejected, quickly deporting them before their families form strong connections to Norway. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet/Terje Rakke

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen has been caught between promises to crack down on refugees whose asylum claims have been rejected, and obligations to act in the best interests of refugee children. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet/Terje Rakke

At issue is the fate of hundreds of children in Norway called asylbarna, whose parents have lost their attempts to win asylum. In many cases, the parents have lied about their circumstances or been unable to otherwise prove a need for asylum, and newspaper Aftenposten reported that a record number of such families have been sent out of the country so far this year.

The government, however, was supposed to ease up on deportations involving families with children who have been in Norway for several years, or even most of their young lives. For them, Norway is home and they have no firm ties to their parents’ homelands. Under UN guidelines, the authorities are thus supposed to act in “the best interests of the children.”

Unusual apology
Anundsen has been accused of failing to do so, and failing to communicate to immigration authorities and police that the government was adopting a more liberal attitude. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported earlier this month that the government’s political agreement with Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party were not forwarded to the police. Anundsen was recently compelled to issue an unusual apology on the floor of the Parliament, with state director of police Odd Reidar Humlegård apologizing as well.

On Friday, the Parliament’s disciplinary committee demanded answers from Anundsen regarding how the miscommunication could have occurred. Opposition politicians and refugee advocates suspect that many of the children and their families deported during the past year should have been allowed to stay in Norway, if the government’s agreement on asylbarna had been followed.

Anundsen confirmed in Parliament that the conservative government had “softened” its approach to refugee families with children who stand to be uprooted. On Friday, he also agreed on new procedures aimed at ensuring that immigration authorities do what’s best for the children in thorny cases.

Children’s rights to carry more weight
There’s general agreement that refugee parents shouldn’t be able to use their children as a means of gaining residence permission in Norway when it’s not warranted. The rights of children who have been in Norway for years, however, not least because of lengthy application and appeals procedures, should be a priority.

Humlegård is willing to take the blame for deportations that may have occurred incorrectly. Anundsen still faces questioning in Parliament, but children now should have more protection. Their ties to Norway shall now weigh heavily when residence permission is evaluated on a humanitarian basis.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund