A prominent law professor and a leading immigration attorney in Norway are among those challenging new Norwegian passport rules that can leave tens of thousands of citizens with their birthplaces listed as “unknown.” The rules have set off a storm of protests since they took effect on June 2.
No one can say for sure who or what was behind the rule change, which recently started being enforced after a decree from the state police. It already has caused major problems for citizens born in 31 countries that mostly are located in Asia and Africa. The police have now apologized for all the confusion and promised to reevaluate their new rules, but claim the new and controversial practice will continue in the meantime.
The rule change is especially causing distress for thousands of children adopted by Norwegian parents. Many of the children, such as Gilbert Borgen who was abandoned by his mother in the Philippines two days after his birth on August 20, 1989, feel their very identity is being undermined, after lifetimes of “identity crises” already.
“Those of us adopted from non-Western countries are used to finding ourselves in an identity crisis during the course of our lives,” Borgen wrote in a commentary published on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s website Thursday night. “We’re not considered properly Norwegian and we have no feelings of belonging to the countries where we were born.” He wrote that he has always felt “99 percent Norwegian,” but that now that’s been cast into doubt because of the new rules that have invalidated the only birth document he has.
Borgen was adopted by Norwegian parents a year after he was found in Manila, and he grew up in the Oslo area. He possesses what he calls “the closest thing I have to a birth certificate,” a so-called “Certificate of a foundling” issued by local authorities.
Now, when Borgen renews his passport, he faces having the city of his birth listed as “unknown” because the Norwegian authorities have suddenly and without warning decided that documentation from what they call “Group 2 countries” no longer can be accepted in Norway.
The countries include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iraq, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Mali, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
If citizens born in these countries wind up with “Birthplace unknown” printed in their Norwegian passports, it can cause delays or even denial of obtaining visas to many countries including the US. “That applies to both those who apply electronically for short visits and those who apply for visas for longer stays,” Katherine Reimondez, consul at the US Embassy in Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It will also lengthen the processing period of visa applications.”
Inger Hohler, the mother of two other children adopted from the Philippines, called the new rules “discriminatory” and both she and Borgen are far from the only ones upset over the rule change and the lack of information surrounding it. Rune Berglund Steen, leader of Norway’s Anti-Racism Center, said the rules have set off “a chaotic situation” just before the busy summer travel season.
‘Damaging police credibility’
“The authorities are risking creation of lots of problems both for Norwegians and for the Norwegian foreign service, which has to be called in to help solve the problems (foreign-born) Norwegians will have all over the world,” Steen told Dagsavisen.
Mads Andenæs, a law professor at the University of Oslo, said the rule change will weaken the credibility of the state police in Norway, which is in charge of issuing passports and documents related to immigration issues. “This has so many ramifications for so many people that everyone must understand it should have gone through a public hearing process,” Andenæs told Dagsavisen. He said it looked like the rules around creation of new rules weren’t followed in this case.
“It’s important to find out how this came up,” Andenæs added. “Has the police directorate itself initiated this, or is it the result of a political process? This is unclear, and it damages the credibility of the police.”
Arild Humlen, a prominent immigration attorney in Norway, was also highly critical, and claimed the police have lacked authority to make the rule change. He said he has several clients who are Norwegian citizens but born abroad, and they fear the consequences of new rules regarding place of birth in Norwegian passports.
“I’ve had several calls from families who also have been blocked from leaving the country because their new passports state their birthplace as ‘unknown,'” Humlen told NRK. Bashe Musse, leader of the Somalian Network in Nroway, said many of his members now feel like “second-class citizens” in Norway and fear their passports aren’t worth much anymore.
Police apologize, but offer no immediate solution
Steinar Talgø, chief of the legal section at the state police, denied the new rules will cause problems either with exit or entry in other countries. “If anyone encounters problems, border patrols will be able to confirm the authenticity of the passport relatively quickly,” he insisted to NRK. “I think the biggest problem in this case is emotional.” He was referring to the comments of many foreign-born Norwegian citizens like Borgen who also feel like “second-class citizens” despite a lifetime in Norway and no personal ties to the lands of their birth.
They may finally be finding more understanding from other officials within the police who issued a statement Thursday afternoon in which they apologized for the “uncertainty and any problems” the rule change has caused.
“The Directorate will now re-examine the new rules, and invite some of the affected organization to a meeting,” read the statement that was not attributed to any specific official within the police.
The statement went on to claim that the change was made “after the Police Directorate “became aware” that Folkeregisteret (Norway’s national population register) had listed birthplaces for people born in (the 31) countries without that information being verified.” The police then decided they no longer could continue to issue passports including unverified information.
“The police have since seen that the change can have some unfortunate consequences, and the directorate will now evaluate with the problem surrounding (unverified) birth places can be solved in a better manner.”
Until that occurs, however, the police stated that the current and controversial practice will continue. There was no word on who initiated the change that’s caused so much uproar, or whether it was an administrative initiative from the police themselves or a political initiative from the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for the police and immigration and under the control of the conservative Progress Party, known for its restrictive immigration policies. The police noted that the passport holder’s country of birth will still be listed in the Norwegian passport, but the city may continue to be listed as “unknown” unless the rule is changed once again.