In addition to the new controls of ferries and border crossings that took effect Thursday morning, Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen has resorted to another tactic to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Norway. His ministry has placed ads in newspapers in Afghanistan warning that unfounded requests for asylum will result in quick, and forced, deportation.
Large numbers of the asylum seekers arriving in Norway are from Afghanistan, especially those who’ve been using the so-called “Arctic Route” through Russia to the Norwegian border at Storskog. Many of them already have residence permission in Russia, leading Anundsen to tell Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “many of those coming are seeking happiness and a better life, but don’t need protection (through asylum in Norway).”
Oslo newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday how Anundsen is now tackling the influx of “unqualified” Afghan asylum seekers by warning them in Afghanistan not to set off on what may be a disappointing, hazardous and expensive journey to Norway. Through ads in Afghan newspapers including the Afghanistan Times and Hasht-e-Sub, the front-page ads placed by Norway’s justice ministry warn of “Stricter immigration regulations in Norway” and “important information” about the tougher rules. That includes warnings that unqualified asylum seekers who don’t leave Norway voluntarily will be forcibly returned.
Sending a message
The ads are also aimed at sending a message to Afghan parents who send their teenage sons to Norway or other countries in Europe, often paying smugglers to arrange the journeys. Concerns are rising in Norway that the underage asylum seekers are often expected to find whatever work they can upon arrival and send money back to their families, and are under enormous pressure to do so. Norwegian government officials thus want to warn parents not to send off their children as underage refugees. The ministry also announced plans this week to start giving food coupons to those who do make it to Norwegian asylum centers, instead of cash, to prevent the minors from sending the money home instead of using it to eat.
The newspaper ads are part of a state campaign to stem the influx of unqualified asylum seekers to Norway. It was launched earlier this month via social media and now also involves warnings issued via Norway’s embassies in 15 countries which many people are desperate to leave.
“It’s often a challenge that people base their travel plans on an incorrect understanding of other countries’ asylum policies,” Anundsen told Aftenposten. “There are many who think they can travel, for example, to Norway and start a new life. By offering information about our asylum policies we can avoid them setting off, subjecting themselves to massive danger, overburdening asylum systems and all of Europe, and nonetheless end up being sent back to Afghanistan.”
The ministry’s new tactics quickly drew concern and complaints from asylum advocates and Amnesty International. Amnesty officials worried that the ministry’s new ads may also discourage Afghans and others who have legitimate needs for asylum from attempting to travel to Norway.
Anundsen acknowledged that there has been a decline in arrivals of asylum seekers this month. Only 24 crossed the border from Russia to Norway on Tuesday and 38 on Monday, reported Nettavisen, down from between 100 and 200 per day in recent weeks. Police in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark caution that it’s still “too early” to confirm a trend, but Anundsen was clearly encouraged.
“We’re already seeing a decline in arrivals to Norway,” he told news bureau NTB, but attributed it mostly to the recent border controls imposed by authorities in Sweden after its asylum reception system no longer can handle the refugee influx.
Norwegian customs agents and border patrols started demanding passports and, where required, visas at border entry points from 8am on Thursday. Ferries arriving from Denmark and Germany were among those being met by heightened controls, and all travelers including Norwegian citizens are urged to carry passports or other valid forms of identification once again, even when traveling within Scandinavia.