The Norwegian government, which often has called the US its “most important ally,” was as upset as many others around the world this weekend after new US President Donald Trump banned the entry of refugees and other citizens of seven mostly-Muslim countries. They included a passenger from Oslo on a Norwegian Air flight to Los Angeles, who was denied entry into the US and sent back to Norway on another Nowegian flight via Copenhagen.
“Refugees and other people must be treated equally regardless of their religion, nationality and skin color,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told newspaper VG on Sunday. “The US is violating this by denying entry to so many travelers.”
Many hold valid visas to the US in their passposts from the banned countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Airlines had thus allowed them to board aircraft. Others were held back while still others were stopped by immigration authorities after landing at US airports, where chaos reigned.
“We must be determined in the campaign against terrorism, but I don’t think it’s right to paint so many people with the same brush,” Solberg told VG. She said that the US also has an ongoing obligation, just like countries all over the world, to protect refugees.
“We all have an obligation and a responsibility to protect people on the run,” Solberg said. “Norway (which took in more than 30,000 refugees in 2015) has made a big contribution in this area, both in their own regions and by taking them into Norway. The US has the same responsibility.”
Solberg stressed that Norway’s strategy in the war against terror has been to build a broad coalition that includes moderate Muslims “who stand by our liberal values, as a counterweight to the extremists’ values. I’m worried that a general travel ban (to the US) does not build up this joint contribution.”
Solberg’s foreign minister, Børge Brende, was worried, too. It’s highly unusual for Norwegian government officials to criticize the US or speak out against the policies of its biggest ally, but Brende along with other European allies in, for example, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, were all reacting negatively on Sunday to Trump’s executive order.
“I’m worried about the recent days’ decisions and signals from the Trump Administration,” Brende told VG. Trump’s ban on resettling refugees in the US is due to last for at least 120 days, or until new regulations for evaluating refugees are put into place.
“Norway has been very clear that refugees must be evaluated irregardless of religion, nationality and skin color,” Brende said while repeating Solberg’s claims that Norway and all countries are obliged to protect refugees. He stressed that a record-high 65 million are currently fleeing war and conflict, with Europe absorbing the most of late.
“The US must also take its share of the (UN-approved) refugees,” Brende told VG. “It’s extremely unfortunate that President Trump has temporarily halted the US’ program for resettlement. We expect that the US will continue to take part in international efforts for taking in refugees in the times to come.”
Trump has justified his ban by claiming that it’s necessary to protect America from terrorists. All those who took part in the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001, however, were from Saudi Arabia, long a major oil-producing ally of the US which is not included in Trump’s ban. More recent terrorist attacks were carried out by US citizens or, as in the San Bernadino attacks, from Pakistan, which isn’t covered by the ban either. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Sunday that not a single citizen of the seven countries whose citizens are now denied entry into the US has ever killed an American in a terrorist attack in the US.
Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, and his defense secretary, James Mattis, had also earlier criticized Trump’s plans to ban Muslims from the US and halt refugee resettlement. Both, however, stood smiling behind their new president as he signed his latest controversial executive order over the weekend.
Norwegian Air passenger denied entry in LA
Meanwhile, Norwegian Air confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday that it was forced to fly a passenger on board its flight from Oslo to Los Angeles back to Norway on Sunday. Details remained sketchy but the passenger was not allowed entry into the US at the LA airport because of citizenship in one of Trump’s banned countries.
“As an airline, we have no authority to decide on who is or is not allowed entry into the US,” Tonje Næss, a spokesperson for Norwegian Air, told NRK. “The American authorities must answer for why this passenger was denied entry.”
The situation was chaotic at many US airports during the weekend. Passengers who were airborne when Trump signed his executive order on Saturday were initially arrested at the airports where they landed and held pending deportation. A federal judge later ordered a halt to the deportations of passengers stranded at US airports. That raised hopes that others would be allowed in after all, but that didn’t happen in the case of the Norwegian Air passenger, who was sent back to Scandinavia around three-and-a-half hours after the federal judge had acted.
The airlines were left in a difficult situation, with some allowing passengers with valid visas or residence permission in the US to board US-bound flights, others not. The significance of the federal judge’s restraining order remained unclear. “We are an airline, a transport company,” Næss told NRK. “We can only try to follow the laws and regulations of the countries where we fly.” Legal challenges to Trump’s executive order are already flying, with many lawyers claiming it violates not only other US law but also the US Constitution.