UPDATED: Around 70 asylum seekers who fear they’re about to be sent out of Norway have launched a hunger strike after being returned to an asylum center in the far northern county of Finnmark. Others have disappeared from an asylum center in Vadsø. They don’t want to be sent back over the border to Russia.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that dozens of asylum seekers have been picked up at asylum centers around Norway over the weekend and sent back to an asylum reception center in Kirkenes, Sør-Varanger. Rami Haddad, who told NRK he’s from Jordan, had been living in an asylum center father south, in Harstad, until he was picked up and sent back to Sør-Varanger during the weekend.
“When they picked us up, they said we would be interviewed by (state immigration agency) UDI but we haven’t been,” Haddad told NRK. “We haven’t received any information.” On Tuesday came reports that asylum seekers staying at a center in Vadsø, also in Finnmark, had left the center and gone into hiding. They also feared being sent back to Russia.
Authorities’ plans unclear
With reports circulating that Norwegian authorities plan to expel a large group of refugees whose applications for asylum have been rejected, those sent to the center near the border worry they’re about to be sent back over the border to Russia that they crossed earlier. Haddad said he and the others are protesting an expulsion by launching the hunger strike. Both children and adults had stopped eating, he told NRK.
“There are around 70 people here now,” Hussam Dibo, another refugee brought back to Sør-Varanger from the center where he’d been staying in Målselv, told NRK. “No one has been told why they were moved, but I think they’re going to send us to Russia tomorrow.” Police responsible for the transport of refugees back to Sør-Varanger told NRK they couldn’t say what the reason was for it.
The assembling of asylum seekers back near the border came just after UN officials criticized Norwegian officials for returning asylum seekers to Russia. Norway has contended that all those with valid residence permission in Russia have no need for asylum in Norway, and Russia has been taking back refugees rejected in Norway.
The UN, however, claims Russia is not a safe place for refugees. “We do not consider Russia as having a functioning asylum system,” Vincent Cochetel, European chief for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told NRK. The UN has also criticized other aspects of Norway’s recent moves to tighten immigration and asylum law.
Neither Prime Minister Erna Solberg nor Norway’s new government minister in charge of immigration and asylum issues, Sylvi Listhaug, see any problem with returning refugees to Russia. “We believe that’s entirely in line with the asylum convention,” Solberg said. Listhaug, appearing on NRK’s nightly nationwide newscast on Monday, was unrelenting. She maintained that Russia was a safe haven for asylum seekers and that bus transportation would be provided to the border town of Nikel.
Striking asylum seekers said they would refuse to board any bus in Norway, while TV2 reported that an Oslo lawfirm had sent an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for an injunction against any deportation of asylum seekers back to Russia.