Young refugees who fled terror and a dismal future in Afghanistan, but failed to win asylum in Norway, will no longer be all but automatically sent back when they turn 18. They’ve won the right to a new evaluation of their asylum applications, after a majority in Parliament granted them a reprieve on Tuesday, but deportations still loom.
The reprieve came after the Labour Party’s leadershp gave in to a groundswell of sympathy and support for the young refugees within the party. Labour, along with the Center Party, had effectively backed the conservative government’s strict immigration policy and forced returns of most young Afghan refugees when they turned Norway’s legal age of 18. Both parties had refused to go along with earlier initiatives from the Socialist Left party (SV) and the Liberal Party that would have halted the forced returns.
On Tuesday, however, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre, deferred to the internal pressure within his own party to give the young rejected refugees another chance. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that he only begrudgingly agreed to put forth a new proposal in Parliament that those targeted for deportation after their 18th birthays must get their cases reevaluated. Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug, who has staunchly defended her hard line on who wins asylum in Norway, was instructed to introduce new criteria regarding the vulnerability of the teenagers sent back to Afghanistan. Forced returns will be halted as long as the teens’ cases are under being evaluated.
Center Party forced to go along
Labour quickly won support for its new proposal from all other parties in opposition, with the Center Party also going along. That left Listhaug’s Progress Party and the Conservatives who lead Norway’s government coalition in the minority, with Listhaug herself suffering a rare political defeat.
Arne Strand, political commentator in Dagsavisen, noted that it was Listhaug’s first major defeat in immigration policy. He suggested it may signal new times for her and Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s minority government. “After this, they will have to listen better to the Parliament,” Strand wrote. “She won’t always get what she wants.”
The Center Party could, of course, have held on to its own restrictive policy on immigration and asylum arrivals, and given Listhaug and the government a majority. After Labour’s parliamentary group voted in favour of at least temporarily halting young refugee returns to Aghanistan, though, Center followed along. “It couldn’t be the only party in opposition to support Listhaug,” Strand wrote.
‘More humane treatment’
It all led to what critics of the government’s strict policies call “more humane treatement” of young people in desperate situations. Once Støre swallowed the majority’s will within his own party, he backed it with full force and won kudos from the Christian Democrats, who hold the important swing vote in Parliament at present. After a rough autumn for Labour, which lost the September election and has been searching for its soul ever since, it was a welcome victory for Labour’s embattled leader.
The real winners, though, are the teenagers who fled Afghanistan, often alone, and endured hazardous journeys to get to Norway, only to be threatened with being sent back because some areas of Afghanistan are considered safe. Many have run away from asylum centers, preferring a life as illegal aliens on the streets of European cities to being sent back to Afghanistan. Now they’ll get another chance at being allowed to stay in Norway, since all asylum seekers aged 16 to 18 who arrived alone will be eligible for individual re-evaluation of their cases under new, more liberal criteria.