Support fades for 10,000 refugees

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With only three communities in Norway so far willing to take in a total of 152 additional refugees from Syria over the next two years, it now looks like demands on the government to take in 10,000 are about to fall flat. As political negotiations began on the refugee issue Tuesday, even the high-profile party leaders who’ve been making the demands seem to realize that they lack support, not only among the public but among their own party fellows at the local level.

Labour Party leader won loud applause when he declared at his party's annual meeting last month that Norway should take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. Now his party has lost support in public opinion polls and local political leaders aren't responding to the call to take in more refugees. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Labour Party leader won loud applause when he declared at his party’s annual meeting last month that Norway should take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. Now his party has lost support in public opinion polls and local political leaders aren’t responding to the call to take in more refugees. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

It’s the local governments that must assume responsibility for accommodating refugees, and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre’s call for a national dugnad (collective effort) to do so hasn’t been embraced. Knut Arild Hareide, the leader of the Christian Democrats who have been among the most vocal on the refugee issue, hasn’t managed to convince many of his party’s local political leaders either, nor has the Center Party, which has political control over many local governments around Norway that haven’t even responded yet to questions from the government about how many refugees they can take in.

Only three have: Tromsø in Northern Norway, Overhalla in Nord-Trøndelag in the north-central region of the country and Hvaler, an island community perhaps best known for its attractive summer holiday homes, in the south. Communities still have a week to respond to the government minister in charge of integration and settling refugees, Solveig Horne, but she can confirm that there hasn’t exactly been an outpouring of willingness to take in refugees.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that several local mayors, including the Christian Democrats’ Knut Støbakk in Giske in the county of Møre og Romsdal, have said they won’t answer by the deadline. “Maybe sometime in June,” Støbakk said. He then rattled off the challenges his community faces in taking in more refugees, even though Horne has said her state ministry covers 90 percent of resettlement costs: “Housing is one factor. Jobs and social services would be the next phase. Jobs are under pressure. The northwest coast is driven by the oil industry, and there’s a slowdown now.” Støbakk of the Christian Democrats is clearly reluctant to commit to taking in refugees and helping them establish new lives.

It could be argued that the Christian Democrats, who have functioned as a support party for the minority conservative government coalition, thus don’t seem to be practicing what they preached at their national annual meeting earlier this year, when they all but threatened to topple the government unless it agreed to take in 10,000 more refugees. The government’s other support party, the Liberals, led the call for more refugees and Støre’s pronouncement at Labour’s annual meeting assured them a majority in Parliament. Now, however, the government appears vindicated in its own claims  that it was “unrealistic” for Norway to take in 10,000 refugees on top of the more than 5,000 already in the country and awaiting resettlement.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that 10 communities have already refused to take in more refugees. Tromsø has offered to take in 70 Syrian refugees this year and next year, while Overhalla will welcome seven and Hvaler five.  That can only mean that the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, Labour and the Center Party are going to have to dampen their demands. The government will prevail in its refusal to agree to 10,000, but a compromise is likely to be hammered out.

“10,000? That number just has to be forgotten,” one “centrally placed” politician within the government parties told Aftenposten. Latest estimates put the number of additional Syrian refugees who may actually be accepted through the UN’s refugee placement program at now somewhere around 4,000, while the government will continue to push for sending more state financial aid to help refugees where they are.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund