Norway’s largest and newest asylum reception center impressed King Harald and Queen Sonja when it opened just last week. Now it’s already fully booked, illustrating the pressure Norwegian officials are under as they struggle to accommodate all the refugees who keep arriving every day.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Tuesday that all 1,000 beds at the center, set up in a sprawling former department store just north of the Swedish border at Råde, were occupied by Sunday night. That forced immigration officials and the police registering asylum applications to temporarily stop accepting new arrivals, and police have had to continue registering refugees back at an overburdened center at Tøyen in Oslo.
New figures released by immigration agency UDI show that 1,946 more refugees arrived in Norway last week, and 2,000 the week before. News bureau NTB reported that 93 asylum seekers crossed the borders at Svinesund in the south and at Storskog in the far north just on Saturday alone.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg is due to present proposals to the Parliament on Friday over how to deal with the ever-escalating refugee crisis. UDI’s latest prognosis estimates 56,000 new refugees will have arrived in Norway by the end of next year, as many as the entire population of many Norwegian cities like Drammen and Bodø. Norway, with a total population of just over 5 million, has never had systems dimensioned to take in so many new arrivals, and officials are scrambling to find accommodation and funding to cover costs already estimated to hit NOK 50 billion by 2020. Even though Norway has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, built up by oil revenues, there are restrictions on tapping too heavily into it, both economic and political.
Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen are expected to seek political support for using more oil money, but also for shifting more money from the foreign aid portion of Norway’s state budget, to cover some of the aid now being extended to foreigners within the country’s own borders. The opposition Labour and Center parties now seem inclined to go along, with Labour noting that it did the same when it held government power in 2010.
The Center Party, meanwhile, has urged non-partisan support for the government at a trying time, indicating that the government’s proposals will be relatively well-received in Parliament. The Center Party, which holds more than 100 mayoral seats nationwide, also appears willing to pressure local communities into settling far more refugees than they do now, as long as the state pays the bills.
Solberg has estimated that each individual refugee who secures residence permission in Norway can cost the state NOK 1 million (USD 121,000) over a five-year period. “Today the state pays 90 percent of the cost of settling refugees, and we believe that should rise to 100 percent because today’s situation demands it,” Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We can’t land in a situation where taking in refugees will come at the expense of (community funded) schools or nursing homes.” Others, including Solberg and Jensen, warn that the refugee influx will ultimately put pressure on Norway’s social welfare state, and possibly force cuts in social welfare programs.