Prime Minister Erna Solberg left the aftermath of Monday’s mid-term elections to discuss one of their key issues, the refugee crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday. The two agreed that border control had become important again, Solberg said, but no firm plans were set for how Norway can help receive refugees arriving.
“Merkel had no commentary as to how many refugees Norway should take in,” Solberg told reporters after her bilateral meeting with Merkel. Solberg is in Berlin to take part in a conference involving female leaders, but also had talks with Germany’s powerful chancellor and finance minister.
The refugee crisis overshadowed all other topics during Solberg’s meeting with Merkel, but there was no talk of any refugee quotas being forced on Norway or other European countries. Norway is not a member of the EU, but its economic agreement with the EU that gives Norwegian exporters market access to the European Economic Area (EEA) implies that Norway generally must go along with EU measures.
“We talked about the need for the Schengen agreement (which has applied passport control only at entry points into Europe) to function,” Solberg told state broadcaster NRK. She said people from outside the EEA must be registered upon arrival, so that Europe “has a border control that actually works.”
‘Will contribute’ to sheltering more refugees
EU officials have so far failed to agree on how those refugees already in Europe should be distributed among EU countries, with a new meeting of EU foreign ministers set for September 22. Germany and Sweden have taken in the vast majority but need other countries to help share the load. Solberg said she told Merkel that Norway, which already has seen record numbers of refugees arriving in recent months, “will contribute.” She was pleased that Germany was supporting Norway’s efforts to raise funding for Syria and its neighbouring countries where millions of refugees now live in camps.
Solberg thinks Norway takes in many refugees on a per capita basis, compared with most European countries. The numbers continued to increase this week, with immigration agency UDI now predicting that as many as 20,000 may be registered by the end of the year. More than 790 arrived last week alone, more than half of them from Syria.
Norway ‘should have been better prepared’
Germany, meanwhile, expects 800,000 refugees this year, and reception centers are bursting just as they are in Norway. That prompted criticism on Thursday from a private owner of Norwegian asylum centers, who claimed UDI should have foreseen the large numbers of new arrivals that began in May. Instead, UDI officials have admitted they were “surprised” and “unprepared,” and are now scrambling to accommodate the thousands turning up.
“The problem we’re seeing now isn’t the large numbers of asylum seekers, but that the bureaucracy didn’t manage to plan for them,” Morten Jørgensen of Link AS, which runs asylum centers, told newspaper Aftenposten. He’s worked in the asylum system for 27 years, and with the Syrian civil continuing to rage and much of the Middle East falling to the control of brutal terrorists, he doesn’t think anyone should be surprised that refugees are running for their lives.
UDI is, however, beholden to tough justice ministry requirements that it release capacity whenever possible to keep costs down, Jørgensen conceded. That’s what led to UDI canceling leases at the beginning of this year for various facilities, when demand seemed to decline, only to quickly have to find new refugee accommodation now.
All of Norway’s party leaders were meeting on Thursday to discuss the ongoing wave of refugees arriving in Norway. On Friday the government is expected to announce extra funding allocations to UDI and other public authorities handling refugees such as the police.