Norway’s three government parties claim they’ve agreed on a plan to evacuate some “young and vulnerable” asylum seekers from squalid refugee camps in Greece, but still can’t say when or how many. Justice Minister Monica Mæland also confirms the plan is contingent on at least eight to 10 other countries evacuating and accepting refugees first.
“The government has always wanted a broad European solution (to help ease the severe overcrowding at camps in Greece), and now we’re defining what we mean by that,” Mæland, from the Conservative Party, told news bureau NTB. “As long as at least eight to 10 other countries in Europe realize their evacuations, the government will contribute and evacuate vulnerable children and families who most probably would qualify for asylum, from the camps in Greece.”
She said the Norwegian government would “understandably enough” have to “come back with a point in time and the number of children” who would be evacuated, “but in line with the (government coalition’s) agreed platform, we will do this within the framework” for the number of UN certified refugees Norway has committed to accept.
It remained uncertain, however, how wholeheartedly the Conservatives’ two partners (the Liberal and Christian Democrats) endorse and support the plan. The Christian Democrats, which suffered major defeats in parliament on Tuesday over reforms to Norway’s biotechnology law, was clearly keen to make it look like the small party had scored a victory on its efforts to help asylum seekers.
“The Christian Democrats have won support for a solution to the Moria case,” claimed party leader Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, referring to the especially troubled Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. “The government is now committing itself to take part in a European solution that also involves Norway bringing children and families to Norway. This is an important victory for the Christian Democrats in the government.”
Others weren’t so sure, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and other medai reporting that both the Christian Democrats and Liberals were actually unable to get what they wanted out of the Conservatives. They reportedly were still working on their own proposal to evacuate children from the Moria camp and win support for it from other non-government parties in Parliament.
Those wanting to rescue children from the camps and bring them to Norway were left confused, with MP Une Bastholm of the Greens Party calling the government’s proposed plan “an incomprehensible compromise lacking any spine.” Bastholm was also critical that the plan omitted any information about when evacuations could begin or how many children and families would be rescued.
Karin Andersen, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), also reacted negatively to how the plan hinges on what other European countries do. “I must say that makes it a very weak plan,” Andersen told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday.
The refugee issue has long split the government coalition, with the Christian Democrats and Liberals fighting hard for Norway to help asylum seekers and the Conservatives resisting. Newspaper Aftenposten reported last week that Greece asked Norway to evacuate 150 young asylum seekers at the Moria camp last fall, but former Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr of the anti-immigration Progress Party (which withdrew from the government coalition in January) refused. Kallmyr wrote back to his Greek counterpart that after a “thorough evaluation” of the request, Norway had “concluded” that it didn’t want to take part in “relocation of migrants.” He stressed, meanwhile, that Norway would instead contribute towards strengthening Greece’s asylum system through border protection cooperation and funding from the European Economic Area (EEA) countries that include Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.
The bottom line is that several southern EU countries, especially Greece and Italy, have long taken in the largest share of asylum seekers and migrants simply because of their geographic location closest to the Middle East and northern Africa. They’ve pleaded for years for help from fellow EU and EEA members, only to be left still shouldering the burden.
‘Need to act quickly’
Greece has especially appealed for humanitarian aid for roughly 2,500 minors now languishing in its overcrowded refugee camps. “We need to act quickly,” the Greek minister in charge, Michalis Chryssochoidis, wrote to Kallmyr, to take care of the minors and protect them assault. “They need to be relocated,” Chryssochoidis wrote, in a letter obtained by Aftenposten.” The Greek minister proposed that Germany and France help 350 each, while proposing that countries including Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Austria could take 150 each. Italy, Spain and Switzerland were asked to take in 100 and Denmark just 40.
Kallmyr and the Norwegian government seem to have repeatedly ignored the calls for help, also rejecting concrete proposals from the EU to take in children from Moria in March. At that time, Norway’s justice ministry cited the “extraordinary situation after the outbreak of Covid-19” in concluding that Norway was not able to respond to the request to relocate asylum seekers from Greece.
This week’s proposal arrived just as debate in Parliament was beginning but overshadowed by the biotechnology debate on Tuesday. A decision on the Moria camp issue is due Thursday and the government’s two junior partners may still hope that opposition parties including Labour, SV, the Reds, the Greens and maybe even the Center Party could support them. All the parties claim they want to help, but under various terms and conditions. The EU, meanwhile, has claimed it will come with a plan for evacuations from the Greek camps in June.