New asylum system greets few seekers

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The numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Norway have sunk to new record lows in recent months. Norwegian officials are nevertheless preparing to receive many more at their cavernous national reception center in Råde, through a new system in which persecuted homo- and transsexuals are due to get priority.

Norway’s national reception center for asylum seekers is getting reorganized and ready to take in more arrivals. Only around 2,000 are expected, however, over the course of this year. PHOTO: UDI/Hero

Justice Minister Monica Mæland visited the center about an hour’s drive south of Oslo this week, to review plans for how it’s gearing up to take in and house as many as 1,000 asylum seekers at a time. News bureau NTB reported that right now, there are only 12 people living at the center.

“The Corona situation has led to fewer opportunities for people to move around, but that will change when borders open up again,” Mæland, of the Conservative Party, told NTB. Only 35 asylum seekers arrived in Norway in April, 38 in May and 62 in June. That compares to more than 170 a day who crossed the border at Storskog in Northern Norway during the refugee influx in 2015, when more than 30,000 asylum seekers arrived in the country, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan.

Borders were quickly tightened not only in Norway but especially in southern portions of the EU. That gave northern countries like Norway a respite but made the situation extremely difficult for countries like Greece, Italy and Spain, where many asylum seekers still land after making treacherous journeys in small boats over the Mediterranean.

Stressing integration, and new processing
Norway is under pressure to share the burden and take in more refugees from camps in Southern Europe, but so far has only committed to receive 3,000 a year through the United Nations. That’s way down from the years when more than 10,000 asylum seekers arrived in Norway every year.

The Conservatives’ led government coalition contends, however, that it’s more important to integrate those already here and be prepared to better integrate those expected to arrive. Mæland also announced that the Justice Ministry, which is responsible for immigration and asylum policy in Norway, is streamlining the asylum process to more efficiently handle the applications of new arrivals.

They’ll all be taken to the reception center in Råde, where both immigration agency UDI, the police and health care officials will be on staff. “We’ll have a more secure and efficient asylum process, when all involved are working under the same roof,” Mæland said.

New priorities
Asylum seekers will be met first by police for a conversation aimed at confirming their identities. Then they’ll be transferred to health care officials for medical exams before being housed at the reception center for three weeks while their applications are processed on site. The goal is to process 70 percent of all applications within 20 days.

“Those needing asylum will then be sent to other asylum centers around Norway and offered new housing, while those rejected will be sent out of the country,” Mæland told NTB.

The government also announced during the weekend that gay, lesbian and transsexual asylum seekers will be prioritized among those being transferred to Norway through the UN or other countries. Women and children are already a priority, but now the government wants to help those facing LGBT persecution in countries in their homelands.

Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Tuesday that since they’ll likely be among the 3,000 processed through the UN, the actual numbers will be few. The new policy still sends “an important and correct signal from Norwegian authorities that persecution of these groups must be taken seriously, and that sexuality is a fundamental human right.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund