Afghan evacuees swiftly resettled

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Fully 676 of the 860 Afghans flown under chaotic conditions to Norway last week have already been granted status as refugees, and 243 have been sent to new homes in 30 different Norwegian towns and cities. Several hundred more who worked for Norwegian forces in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, however, couldn’t be evacuated before the August 31 deadline and their fate remains uncertain.

A total of 860 Afghan evacuees were flown to Norway like here, crammed on board a C-130J Hercules aircraft from the Royal Norwegian Air Force. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Norway’s immigration agency UDI is working with the state agency charged with integration (IMDi) plus police and child welfare services to register and accommodate the hundreds who arrived on various military flights from Kabul.

UDI reported this week that 513 of them include former Norwegian defense department employees and their families. Another 72 were human rights activists in Afghanistan and 63 were locally employed by the Norwegian government in Kabul, mainly at Norway’s now-closed embassy. Of the 860 arriving in Norway, around 400 are under age 18.

A total of 28 children were also evacuated without their parents, some of them very young and handed over fences to NATO soldiers during the chaos that ensued around the Kabul Airport’s perimeter. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Norwegian officials have now identified 25 of the children, whose parents can thus claim a right to be reunified with them in Norway.

All the children are now under the care of Norwegian child welfare services, with adult guardians who understand the children’s language and culture. Many Afghan families already living in Norway have also offered to provide foster homes or help the children in some other way. Norwegian authorities hailed their engagement, but are keeping the children under professional care for now.

Rushed circumstances
The vast majority of those arriving last weekend are being housed at a residential complex tied to a convention center in Sandefjord, while 150 were sent to Norway’s asylum center in Råde near Fredrikstad. From there they’re being transferred to more permanent homes in the 30 municipalities around Norway that responded to a call for resettlement help within 48 hours. Eleven families involving a total of 47 people had been resettled by early this week.

UDI director Frode Forfang told Aftenposten that the evacuation had to be carried out so quickly that documentation of the evacuees’ identities was not complete before they arrived in Norway. He noted, however, that those able to obtain room on evacuation flights by Norwegian officials had been cleared through security gates around the airport based on documentation presented. Those arriving are thus not viewed as a security risk: “Neither police nor PST (Norway’s police intelligence unit) have raised any red flags about that.” Both had been sent to Kabul to help deal with the evacuation.

Around 400 of the Afghan evacuees were children, 28 of whom arrived without their parents. A Norwegian soldier is shown here taking care of a child at a transfer base in Tbilisi during the long trip from Kabul to Oslo. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Frederik Ringnes

Now concern is rising for all the Afghans earlier employed by Norwegian forces who did not manage to get to the airport in Kabul by the time the evacuation ended. In one case, reported newspaper Klassekampen, a man identified as “Hasan” had been told on August 26 that Norway would evacuate him, only to be sent a message later that same day that the evacuation was over and he couldn’t be flown to Norway after all. Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen told Klassekampen that several hundred more Afghans with various ties to the Norwegian military fear for their lives under the Taliban forces now in power in Afghanistan.

Norway’s defense department recently sent a list to UDI containing names of those in danger. UDI director Forfang, however, told Klassekampen the list of names offers no guarantee that those in “Hasan’s” situation can obtain residence permission in Norway. “It’s not enough,” Forfang said, that they were told they’d be flown out but later weren’t.

That’s because they can only apply for asylum in Norway if they’re physically on Norwegian territory. If they weren’t actually evacuated by either the defense department or foreign ministry, they’ll have to get to Norway by some other means.

Norway ‘must stand by’ its ‘promise’
“I object to that very strongly,” Karin Andersen, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), told Klassekampen. She said she’s also been contacted directly by several people in “Hasan’s” situation, and claims they must be able to be brought to Norway.

“When Norway has acknowledged that they’re in an acute situation and promised to help them, we must stand by that promise,” Andersen said.

The practical problem now, however, is how Norway can follow through on such a promise, since the Taliban ordered all foreign officials out of the country. The UN and humanitarian agencies are calling on the Taliban to reopen the airport in Kabul and allow those keen to leave Afghanistan to do so.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund