The huge influx of refugees into Norway has eased for the third week in a row, with the numbers this time down by two-thirds. Increasing numbers of asylum seekers are also agreeing to return home, after learning that life in Norway isn’t quite what they’d expected.
The welcome mat is no longer rolled out like it was at the end of last summer. In some cases, arriving aylum seekers seem to be met with hostility: Police in Lindås north of Bergen suspect that a weekend fire that gutted a hotel expected to house asylum seekers was intentionally set. If so, it would add to the cases of alleged arson not only at asylum centers in Sweden but also in Norway.
No one was hurt in the fire at the Hotell Lune Huler i Lindås, north of Bergen, but the building was completely destroyed. Local officials had leased the hotel to house the township’s share of refugees to be sent by state agency UDI to the small community. Two explosions heard by witnesses and the sighting of a car leaving the area at around 2am on Saturday stoked suspicions of arson.
Arrivals way down
UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) will now need to find alternative accommodation for asylum seekers still needing a place to stay while their applications are processed. The pressure on UDI, however, apparently will be somewhat less than it has been earlier this autumn. After weeks of registering as many as 2,000 asylum seekers or more, their numbers have fallen dramatically once again, to 363 last week compared to 968 the week before. The latter number was down by more than half from the week before that.
Of those seeking asylum last week, UDI reported that 114 came from Syria, 113 from Afghanistan, 49 from Iran and 16 from Iraq. Seven were stateless, while 64 came from a variety of other countries.
The influx of asylum seekers over the border to Russia at Storskog in the far north all but stopped last week. The decline via the so-called “Arctic Route” from Moscow is attributed both to the onset of harsh winter weather and darkness and the tougher immigration and asylum policies imposed by the Norwegian government late last month. Norwegian officials had feared a humanitarian crisis if the influx had continued.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) also reported on Monday that more asylum seekers who made it into Norway now want to go home, albeit with financial assistance from the Norwegian government. The number of so-called “assisted returns” has risen to more than 900 so far this year.
The voluntary returns are linked to the lengthy delays in processing asylum applications, which can take up to two years. During the process, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work and their lives are literally in limbo while waiting to hear whether they can stay in Norway.
“Very many can’t wait that long,” Katinka Hartmann, leader of the refugee return division at UDI, told NRK. “They have family back home who expect help.” Others are disappointed that they are sent to live in remote areas of Norway, and that they can’t put their education or work experience to use in Norway. This is a hotly debated topic in Norway at present, with many arguing that Norwegian regulations are too strict and force new arrivals into passivity, while the country itself fails to tap the contributions of resourceful refugees.
Those voluntarily leaving the country can receive up to around NOK 20,000 (USD 2,300) each, plus airline tickets. That eases the sting of returning home empty-handed.