Norway’s tougher new asylum rules have boosted deportations and sparked concern lately, both inside and outside the country, but they won’t be eased any time soon. As Norwegian politicians battle over next year’s state budget and other issues, the vast majority of them agree that the grounds and procedures for gaining asylum needed to be tightened.
“We’re following up the broad agreement in Parliament regarding the tightening of asylum policies,” Ingjerd Schou, immigration spokesperson for the Conservative Party that leads Norway’s government coalition, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday. “That means we shall offer protection to those with a real need for it, and that immigration regulations shall be clear.”
The tighter rules were proposed last winter after more than 30,000 refugees arrived in Norway last year, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. All the parties in Parliament later adopted a somewhat softer version of the asylum reform initially presented by the government, but the requirements for asylum got tougher. As many as 1,600 Somalian refugees lost their asylum status, for example, while cuts were made in financial support to families with children. More families with children have been sent back to areas of Afghanistan deemed to be safe and more families who couldn’t prove valid needs for protection are being held at a detention center pending deportation, with their children. Stricter forms of residence permission have also been issued to young asylum seekers arriving in Norway on their own.
‘Unreasonable and ugly’
Dagsavisen reported earlier this week that 10 humanitarian organizations such as Redd Barna (Save the Children) and Norsk Folkehjelp (Norwegian Peoples Aid) had banded together to voice joint concern over the consequences of the tighter rules. “We are worrying in unison over what’s happening in the asylum field,” said Rune Berglund Steen, leader of Norway’s anti-racism center (Antirasistisk Senter). “Many of the policies being carried out are so unreasonable and ugly that we feel it’s correct to issue a warning. We must be sure all the parties in Parliament fully understand the consequences (of the rules they approved).”
Schou, who also serves as an officer of the Parliament, said she’s quite sure they do understand. “The organizations do an important job, but the majority wants tighter asylum policies,” she told Dagsavisen. “Those with a need for protection will get protection.”
The organizations were particularly upset over how Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug of the conservative Progress Party was proud and delighted by a story in The New York Times that picked up on how Norway now forcibly returns more asylum seekers from Afghanistan than any other country in Europe. “We are not as proud of that practice as Listhaug is,” Jon Ole Martinsen of the asylum advocacy organizaiton NOAS told Dagsavisen. “There’s no reason to cheer about how we’re taking the biggest chances that things will go well for those being returned when the security situation in Afghanistan gets worse and worse.” Listhaug’s praise of the Times article also sparked a major row on social media that ended up backfiring on most everyone involved.
Key politicians in Parliament, also those in opposition, are standing firm on the rules. “We are making ongoing evaluations of whether the government is on the right side of the line with our asylum obligations,” said Stein Erik Lauvås, immigration spokesperson for the Labour Party, Norway’s largest that also ordered many forced returns of families with children when it held government power from 2005 to 2013. He agreed with Schou that the organizations play an important role, “but we have no basis to say that the (conservative) government has crossed the line yet.”
Schou of the Conservatives noted that maintaining the tighter rules “doesn’t mean we can’t be influenced” into making further reforms, but there are no plans to ease the new rules now. “I’m following what the organizations are saying, and we’ll make our evaluations accordingly,” added Lauvås of Labour.