The Norwegian government announced plans on Friday for record high investment in reception centers for refugees. The goal is to ensure that local communities are better prepared to house and care for the thousands of refugees arriving from Ukraine after fleeing Russia’s war on their homeland.
“Ukrainians seeking a safe haven with us will get one,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said at yet another press conference on Friday. He and Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl are asking communities all over the country to be prepared for their share of around 35,000 refugees this year.
That’s seven times the number that Norwegian towns and cities have been taking in during recent years. Around 30,000 of those allowed into Norway will be from Ukraine, which millions now feel forced to flee.
Støre and Mehl are asking Parliament for up to NOK 5 billion (USD 580 million) to help provide housing for refugees. Around 10,000 have already arrived and immigration agency UDI has only had around 1,750 beds available in asylum centers since most were closed after the last refugee influx in 2015.
The new influx is among the consequences that Russia’s war on Ukraine is having for Norway. “We’re facing a huge European challenge we can’t turn our backs on,” Støre said, “and we don’t want to, either.” Then he repeated a phrase used earlier when addressing effects of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine:
“We are being put to an historic test,” Støre said, another reference to how Putin’s war is resulting in enormous human suffering and causing massive disruption over all of Europe.
Raiding the foreign aid budget
Some of the money to meet Ukrainians’ needs will likely come from Norway’s foreign aid budget, an issue that’s already sparked complaints among humanitarian organizations also trying to help people in need elsewhere in the world.
Mehl also confirmed that funding for the police is also being shifted around, in order to help register all the Ukrainian refugees arriving in Norway. Nearly 20 new refugee registration centers are being set up in eight police districts around the country.
Both Støre and Mehl have earlier said that as many as 100,000 refugees may arrive in Norway, either on their own or through allocation programs set up through the European Union. The vast majority have initially arrived in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, but they can’t handle the millions needing help.
The government also needs to help fund health care, schooling, job assistance, language classes and other efforts to help Ukrainians integrate into Norwegian society as quickly as possible. The Ukrainian Embassy in Oslo has also asked for provision of digital education for Ukrainian children, to keep them in touch with their own language and curriculum.