Refugee children as political pawns

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s long-running drama about the fate of rejected refugees’ children reached a climax this week, when the government finally agreed to “be more liberal” in cases involving children who’ve spent most or all of their lives in the country. The agreement came only after the minority government coalition was faced with losing the votes in Parliament of its two support parties, leading to another great paradox in the recent history of Norwegian politics.

Justice Minister Anders Amundsen of the Progress Party (left) and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives were all smiles when announcing the so-called "asylbarn" solution this week. In reality, though, they had to give in to the more liberal asylum policies of their smaller support parties in Parliament, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. PHOTO: Justis- go beredskapsdepartementet

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party (left) and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives flashed smiles when announcing the so-called “asylbarn” solution this week. In reality, though, they had to give in to the more liberal asylum policies of their smaller support parties in Parliament, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. PHOTO: Justis- go beredskapsdepartementet

The Conservatives-led coalition with the generally anti-immigration Progress Party had to reluctantly agree that the children of rejected asylum seekers shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their parents.  Even though the parents may have lied about their backgrounds or presented false identities, most agree that their children are undoubtedly better off in Norway than they would be wherever their parents came from. Many were born in Norway, have grown up and gone to school in Norway, speak fluent Norwegian and have little if any acquaintance with their parents’ homeland. Their deportations over the years have created dramatic headlines, when children who viewed Norway as home suddenly wind up in refugee camps in Jordan or on the streets of Kabul.

Labour was as strict as the Conservatives
The so-called asylbarn issue has plagued governments on both the left and the right sides of politics for decades, and the Labour Party was every bit as strict and harshly criticized as Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s coalition has been. But now her coalition relies on support from the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, and both of them sided with what’s best for the children and wouldn’t budge. That effectively resulted in a halt to deportations of long-term refugee families and, possibly, the return of those subject to controversial deportations last year.

The leaders of the minority government coalition's support parties (from left, Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and Trine Schei Grande of the Liberals) forced Prime Minister Erna Solberg (center) to make it easier for long-term asylum children to stay in Norway with their parents, even in cases where the parents don't meet asylum requirements. At right, Finance Minister Siv Jensen and Justice Minister Anders Amundsen, both from the Progress Party, which had to compromise the most. PHOTO: Justis- go beredskapsdepartementet

The leaders of the minority government coalition’s two small support parties (from left, Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberals) forced Prime Minister Erna Solberg (center) to make it easier for long-term asylum children to stay in Norway with their parents, even in cases where the parents don’t meet asylum requirements. At right, Finance Minister Siv Jensen and Justice Minister Anders Amundsen, both from the Progress Party, which had to compromise the most. PHOTO: Justis- go beredskapsdepartementet

On March 18, “instructions” from the government went into effect that ensure new asylum evaluations for children of rejected refugees, and if they’re allowed to stay in Norway, their parents usually are as well. The agreement this week also ensures that children who had been in Norway for more than four years but were deported between July 1 last year and March 18 can also have their cases reviewed.

That means around 60 children sent out of Norway now may be able to return with their families. Immigration officials and humanitarian organizations have been ordered to “take direct contact” with the families involved. The new government agreement also aims to prevent internment of children of refugees whose applications for asylum were turned down.

Crisis solved, paradox arises
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the historic agreement solved the biggest crisis facing Solberg’s government since it took office in the fall of 2013. It nonetheless represents the sort of paradox that can arise in a coalition government: Liquor import quotas were raised when the anti-immigration Christian Democrats held government power in the 1990s, Norway joined the NATO bombing of Libya when the anti-NATO Socialist Left party was part of the Labour-led government in 2011, and now rejected asylum seekers will get more liberal treatment from a government that includes the anti-immigration Progress Party.

Solberg’s coalition might have survived the asylbarn issue in Parliament if Labour followed its track record and gave the Conservatives and the Progress Party support for stricter policies. Labour never made its position clear, though, allowing the government parties to squirm but ultimately iron out their differences. Solberg, however, was unusually clear in her own assessment of the entire drama that ultimately kept her government in power: “It’s absolutely an admission that we should have formulated (an initial) asylbarn agreement in a better manner last fall, and found a solution much more quickly,” Solberg said candidly on a nationally broadcast radio debate on NRK Thursday morning.

“The problem was that the Christian Democrats and the Liberals believed the children should be brought back to Norway,” Solberg said. “The Conservatives and the Progress Party didn’t think we should do that. At the same time it was necessary to find a solution.” The two small support parties prevailed, and the two government parties had to go along or face seeing their government fall.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund