Increasing numbers of recently arrived asylum seekers in Norway have withdrawn their applications and are voluntarily leaving the country. Several have complained about their accommodation, the food they’re offered and the long waiting periods they face while their applications are evaluated.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that both immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) and humanitarian organizations are now being approached daily by asylum seekers who have changed their minds and no longer want to stay in Norway. In some cases they intend to move on to another country, or they miss their families and want to go home, despite the dangers that may entail.
Unrest at asylum centers
“Most want to travel back to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Russia,” Sigurd Tvete of the Norwegian branch of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Aftenposten. He said most of them cite “family reasons,” while others appear disillusioned . Some have been sitting for weeks at remote and slightly shabby mountain hotels, in former military barracks or schools that have hastily been converted into shelters. They’re struggling with uncertainty over their future, food to which they’re unaccustomed, and sheer boredom.
In some cases, officials have faced serious conflicts among the asylum seekers themselves. Two men from Iraq got into a fight last week at an asylum center in Arendal, for example, while two asylum seekers from Syria also started fighting at an asylum center at Stokke in Vestfold County. In both cases, police and ambulance personnel had to be called, although injuries were relatively minor.
Unhappy asylum seekers at another center outside Sarpsborg took part in a protest march to the police station in Sarpsborg, to voice their objections to the food, a lack of Internet access and transport into town, the long wait to get asylum applications evaluated and even an alleged lack of cleanliness at the asylum center where they were living. Justice Minister Anders Anundsen issued a curt reply: “Do the cleaning yourselves,” and received support from other politicians, also from opposition parties, in the Parliament, where negotiations continue over how to fund the billions of kroner needed to cover the costs of the refugee crisis.
Security concerns, complaints of ‘poor treatment’
Rising tensions among war refugees, many of whom are suffering trauma and endured hardships when fleeing their homelands, can result in a powder keg at asylum centers. Hard-pressed personnel are beginning to voice fears about security at the centers that have been set up to get a roof over the heads of the roughly 20,000 refugees who’ve arrived in Norway, most of them just in the past few months. Thousands more are expected.
Government officials desperate to gain control over the refugee influx are hoping that tougher immigration and asylum rules will stem the flow, by discouraging others from coming. UDI confirms increased requests from those already in Norway who want to move on, or return to countries where they had residence permission, including Russia, Lebanon, Turkey and Dubai.
Others told Aftenposten directly that they felt poorly treated in Norway and think they’ll get a better welcome in Germany, for example. One group of four adults and two children left the Brunstad asylum center in Stokke and traveled to Oslo, where they withdrew their asylum applications and traveled on to Germany.
Questioned over IS connections
“The food (at Brunstad) was bad, we’ve been yelled at and badly treated,” one of the men complained. “When we took that up with the leader of the center, he didn’t want to listen. He sat and ate an apple while we talked, and he didn’t respect us.”
He also said that officials at the center were constantly asking new arrivals whether they were soldiers for IS, the terrorist organization, and that was before IS took responsibility for Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
“It was very uncomfortable,” he said. “One of those who was questioned disappeared the next day.” Norwegian officials are faced with concerns, not least since the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday night, that prospective terrorists have infiltrated the groups of asylum seekers arriving in Europe.