Nearly all of Norway’s transit centers for newly arrived refugees seeking asylum are now full, after the number of asylum seekers arriving in Norway last month more than doubled. Immigration officials are scrambling to prepare accommodation for the ever-increasing stream of refugees making their way to Norway.
Immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) reported Friday that 2,313 people sought asylum in Norway in August. That compares to just over 1,000 in August 2014, and UDI now expects as many as 16,000 refugees to arrive in Norway by the end of the year. Officials are asking athletics organizations and other civic-minded groups to help greet and include refugees in their activities, especially those who have arrived with children.
Largest numbers since the Balkan war
By the end of August, a total of 8,336 refugees, mostly from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, had been registered since January 1. The largest numbers arrived during the summer months, in line with the huge numbers arriving daily in southern Europe who have survived hazardous crossings over the Mediterranean.
The numbers in Norway are the highest since the arrival of thousands of Bosnian refugees who were fleeing the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. UDI is now setting up more asylum centers, some of them especially geared for the rising and alarming numbers of young refugees arriving alone, mostly from Afghanistan and Eritrea. UDI diretor Frode Forfang said he and his colleagues had expected around 1,200 young migrants this year, but that number is likely to double as well.
Forfang stressed during a morning press conference, however, that Norway is only getting its share of refugees arriving in Europe, not more, in what he called a “very steep increase” in arrivals in August.
“The high number of arrivals has created a need to accommodate several thousand more people, and UDI is working to establish new reception centers and temporary housing,” the agency stated in a press release Friday morning. Both campgrounds and empty hotels will be put into use. The young refugees must be housed in separate facilities with staff on duty, and UDI was making it a priority to address those needs.
Thousands willing to help
Thousands of ordinary Norwegians are also responding to the call, with newspaper Aftenposten and state broadcaster NRK reporting how the grass-roots organization “Refugees Welcome to Norway” has spread from Oslo to cities all over the country. It’s staffed by volunteers offering food, clothing, toys and other needed items to refugees waiting to get registered. A storage facility in Oslo’s Tøyen district is now packed with donated items that teams of 20 volunteers are handing out to asylum seekers, while 21 Oslo restaurants are now preparing meals for those waiting outside the Tøyen police station’s overburdened asylum registration center.
As debate continues over whether or how many refugees Norway should take in, 54-year-old Mona Bentzen of Oslo said she thinks it’s “fantastic” that so many people want to help. She unwittingly spearheaded the “Refugees Welcome” effort after seeing weary and sad people milling around the Tøyen police station a few weeks ago. She approached them, learned they were hungry and she impulsively bought 60 falafels to offer them.
After newspaper Dagsavisen wrote about her individual effort, others reacted and soon a group of people started preparing warm vegetarian food at home to hand out to the asylum seekers. That effort has now been taken over by the restaurants and a Facebook group organizing it had grown to have around 50,000 followers by the end of this week.