Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl announced on Tuesday that the Norwegian government expects to take in around 35,000 refugees this year. Fully 30,000 of them will be coming from Ukraine, fleeing the war launched by Russian President Vladimir three weeks ago.
A special commission set up to calculate and prepare for a new refugee influx estimates around 30,000 Ukrainian refugees will be arriving on their own. In addition can come thousands more Ukrainians sent to Norway from other countries in Europe.
“This is an estimate,” Mehl stated in a press release from her ministry late Tuesday afternoon, adding that the government is also preparing for higher numbers of Ukrainian refugees.
“It’s important to stress that the situation can change quickly, based on how the war in Ukraine develops,” Mehl said. At least 2.5 million Ukrainians have felt forced to flee their homeland after Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on February 24 that has sparked massive upheaval and suffering in a neighbouring country, and outrage around the world.
“We’re already seeing that arrivals (of refugees) are increasing,” Mehl said. There’s lots of renewed activity at Norway’s national asylum center in Råde, just north of the main southern border crossing to Sweden, and refugees are also being housed in hotels, former nursing homes, apartments and private homes.
Streamlined asylum process
The government already has offered group protection to refugees from Ukraine, to speed up the otherwise lengthy and detailed process of evaluating their rights to temporary residence and work permission. It otherwise can take many months to apply for and wait to receive work permits, but the sheer numbers of refugees fleeing a relatively close country have demanded more liberal systems to handle the influx.
The refugees, mostly women and children, are being spread around the country and housed in various towns, cities and rural communities. Mehl said all local communities will be asked again about how many refugees they can accommodate based on the new and higher estimates.
“The need for housing these refugees is huge,” Marte Mjøs Persen, Norway’s labour minister who’s also in charge of inclusion. “We have a good and open dialogue with local communities regarding their capacity and how it can be increased. I’m glad so many communities want to contribute.”
Plans are also being laid to get the children into local schools, and several have already been playing football with local youth clubs in Oslo. Language difficulties can arise, with state and local officials calling for help from everyone who can understand Ukrainian or Russian and help as interpreters.
“The government is preparing Norway for a refugee crisis that can be much larger than any we’ve experienced before,” Persen said. “Norway can be a safe haven for those fleeing Russia’s meaningless war.
“At the same I want to stress that the government has a responsibility to ensure security on Norwegian territory, and we must maintain control” over the influx.