The conservative government’s proposals to make asylum and immigration rules in Norway much more strict were meeting harsh criticism on Wednesday, as expected. While Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug could claim that Norway would have the strictest policies in Europe, others don’t think that should be a goal at all.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party accompanied Listhaug of the more conservative Progress Party when they finally and formally delivered their proposals for dealing with the stream of refugees to Norway that’s let up since the record influx last year but may resume as the weather warms up. Their proposals had barely changed from those Listhaug rolled out right after Christmas, and their government’s support parties were disappointed. The Liberal Party has already said it won’t vote in favour of them as they now stand, and the Christian Democrats have reservations as well.
“In reality, the Conservatives have given the Progress Party free rein here to challenge the rule of law and test our international commitments to the max,” said Trine Skei Grande, leader of the Liberals who otherwise have an agreement to back the minority government coalition. Not on this, though, and now Listhaug’s and Solberg’s proposals face heated debate in Parliament.
Listhaug continues to defend the tougher immigration and asylum rules she’s put forward, saying they reflect a compromise worked out in Parliament last fall. Jonas Gahr Støre, head of the opposition Labour Party, told news bureau NTB that his party won’t go along with Listhaug’s proposal, for example, to extend any temporary residence permission to five years from three, and will thus vote down the whole package as it now stands.
The Christian Democrats are also upset over Listhaug’s proposals for tightening the possibility for asylum seekers winning refugee status in Norway to bring their families to Norway as well. The don’t like the proposal to only grant temporary asylum to young asylum seekers arriving in Norway on their own. Listhaug also wants to return refugees if peace and stability return to their homelands.
Brynjulf Risnes, a lawyer specializing in migration issues, claimed Listhaug was “simply putting on a show” to prove to traditionally anti-immigration Progress Party voters that she was working hard to push through their platform. He rejected government claims that the measures were needed to ward off another refugee influx like that experienced last year, which he blamed largely on a change in Russian policy that allowed so many people to cross the border into Norway at Storskog.
Mads Andenæs, a law professor at the University of Oslo, claimed the proposals could “ruin the lives” of asylum seekers arriving in Norway. He noted that the Norwegian Bar Association, Norwegian bishops and even the government’s own bureaucrats had warned against the much stricter rules.
‘Could be harmful’
Anne Lindboe, Norway’s ombud for children, was also critical, saying she doubted the stricter proposed rules would discourage desperate parents from sending their children alone to Europe. “I can’t understand the government’s claim that this in the children’s best interests,” Lindboe told NTB. “These rules could be harmful and it’s uncertain whether they’ll work.”
Listhaug was undaunted. “The government won’t put forward anything we don’t think is in line with our legal, international commitments,” she said when presenting the rules on Tuesday. She had begun the day by saying that asylum seekers who have no need for protection will be jailed while their applications are speedily processed withing 48 hours. Then they will be deported.
Solberg called the proposals a “completely necessary tightening” of current rules “to ensure more sustainable asylum policies and control of our borders. A strict and fair asylum policy is important in order for us to integrate those who shall be granted asylum and residence in Norway.”
There were some “adjustments” to the proposals Listhaug presented on December 29. Refugees will need to have worked in paying jobs for three years instead of five before being able to apply to bring family members to Norway, for example. Parliamentary debate will begin soon.