Norway will share EU’s refugee load

Bookmark and Share

Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen has pledged that Norway will take part in the EU’s plan approved this week to distribute 120,000 refugees more evenly among European countries. Anundsen was under severe pressure at home, meanwhile, to immediately improve Norway’s own overburdened system of registering the refugees already streaming into the country.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said Norway will help the EU through a voluntary offer to take in some of the 120,000 newly arrived refugees in Europe. He wouldn't say how, though, at a time when Norway's refugee reception system is already severely overburdened. PHOTO: Justisdepartmentet

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said Norway will help the EU through a voluntary offer to take in some of the 120,000 newly arrived refugees in Europe. He wouldn’t say how, though, at a time when Norway’s refugee reception system is already severely overburdened. PHOTO: Justisdepartmentet

Major humanitarian organizations in Norway including the Red Cross, Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp) and the Norwegian chapter of Save the Children (Redd Barna) are demanding better reception facilities for refugees. As it stands now, the vast majority of refugees must register their applications for asylum at a police station in Oslo’s Tøyen district. It’s open 24 hours a day but with nearly 3,000 refugees arriving in Norway so far this month, its staff is severely strained in meeting demand. That’s resulted in refugees having to queue up and sleep outdoors while they wait hours for their turn to be allowed inside the station to register their asylum applications.

“No one can live with the fact that a refugee camp is developing right in the center of Oslo,” Liv Tørres, secretary general of Norwegian People’s Aid, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday. She said she found scores of exhausted refugees, including several children, sitting on the pavement outside the police station late Sunday night. Some had received blankets and warmer clothes from the volunteers who’ve also been providing food and drink in recent weeks, but Tørres claims state authorities need to take far more responsibility.

“These are people who have traveled a long way, and we need to receive them in an entirely different manner,” said Tørres, who also complained that refugees get little if any help even finding the police station where they must register.

Breakdown in the system
Åsne Havnelid, head of the Red Cross in Norway, is also frustrated over what many view as a breakdown in the refugee reception system. “The Red Cross has pointed out to the police on several occasions that the humanitarian situation at Tøyen can’t continue,” Havnelid told Dagsavisen. “It’s unacceptable that people arriving at Tøyen have to sleep on the street.” She and Tørres cited an “acute need” for “new systems and new thinking.”

They acknowledged that the police station is severely understaffed and its employees are overworked in entirely inadequate facilities because of the refugee crisis. Tørres called for registrations to be conducted in asylum centers where those waiting could at least get some food and a bed, and avoid the chill of autumn nights outdoors in Oslo.

That is ultimately the responsibility of Anundsen who, as justice minister, is in charge of Norway’s state police. More funding is being made available, he has said, and both police and immigration authorities are “working hard” to meet the challenge of processing record numbers of refugees. The state has, for example, quickly converted a former school in Oslo’s Teisen district into a reception center that can house 250 refugees, while it also has leased a conference center in Stokke, about two hours southwest of Oslo, that can accommodate around 1,000 beds to newly arrived refugees. Some Norwegian farmers and other private individuals are also offering to open their homes to refugees, but the authorities say that can only help relieve the settlement of refugees already granted asylum who also are waiting for a place to live. All the new arrivals still need to be placed under more centralized state control during the asylum application process.

Norway offers EU ‘voluntary’ assistance
Anundsen, meanwhile, was in Brussels on Tuesday for the latest meeting of European ministers trying to deal with the refugee crisis. They voted to distribute 120,000 refugees among all EU members, overriding objections from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania that do not want to take in refugees. Norway is not a member of the EU but Anundsen said the Norwegian government is “ready to help” and take its share, without offering any details.

He’s most concerned that countries serving as European entry points for thousands of refugees need help in securing their borders. “In order to do that, we need to relieve Italy and Greece, which are most over-burdened,” Anundsen told new bureau NTB. Norway’s contribution will be made in the form of a voluntary offer to take in a share of the 120,000 refugees, but Anundsen it was “impossible” to say how many. EU officials, he said, welcomed Norway’s intention, and the government would soon make a concrete proposal to Parliament. Berglund