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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Benefits cut for Ukrainian refugees

The Norwegian government is moving forward with cuts in social welfare benefits for Ukrainian refugees. The goal is to make Norway less attractive as a refugee destination, after the country recently has taken in more displaced Ukrainians than Sweden, Denmark and Finland combined.

Norway still advocates solidarity with Ukraine and continues to provide both military and humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. It’s cutting back, though, on refugee reception programs. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“It’s important that we come down to a reception level that’s in line with the rest of the Nordic countries,” said Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, who unveiled the changes in government policy this week along with Labour Minister Tonje Brenna. Both noted that Norwegian towns and cities “have done a formidable job” of settling and integrating Ukrainian refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine and launched its war on its neighbour in February 2022.

Ukrainian refugees have also been unusually welcomed in Norway, compared to those from other countries over the years. During the past several months, however, the numbers of new arrivals have kept climbing, largely because Ukrainians have been offered more generous benefits in Norway than in other countries. That started setting off warning signals earlier this year, and now the government is reining in its reception programs.

Both Mehl and Brenna stress that refugee reception “must be sustainable over time,” while noting that Norway also needs to be able to accept refugees from other countries as well. Around 30,000 arrived in the country during an unusually large migration to Europe in 2015. Now the numbers have doubled, with 68,000 refugees from Ukraine alone arriving during the past 19 months.

Two ministers rolled out the changes facing Ukrainian refugees coming to Norway, along with two top state administrators. From left: Libe Rieber-Mohn, in charge of integration and diversity issues, Labour Minister Tonje Brenna, Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl and the head of Norway’s immigration agency UDI, Frode Forfang. PHOTO: Arbeids- og inkluderingsdepartementet/Simen Gald

Around 60 percent of all Ukrainians fleeing to the Nordic region have chosen Norway as their destination. That has strained reception capacity at all levels, according to the government. Asylum seekers will now have to remain longer at reception centers and accept “lower living standards” than those currently offered.

Since Ukrainians have been offered collective asylum in Norway they’ve also been able to qualify, for example, for monthly welfare payments per child (called barnetrygd) from day one. Many have received the payments in a lump sum at the end of their first year in Norway. That’s amounted to as much as NOK 42,000 for a family with two children under age six, but it will now be cut. Families will instead start receiving the child welfare payments after their first full year, and then on a monthly basis.

‘Must maintain control’
Ukrainian refugees will also be restricted from traveling back to Ukraine, and all must first register at the national refugee reception center in Råde, south of Oslo, before traveling on to other parts of the country. Local officials will no longer offer to put refugees up at hotels if they chose to travel to another destination in Norway than Råde.

“We must maintain control over immigration and integration,” Brenna said. “Those arriving in Norway will be offered safe and proper accommodation, but today’s arrival numbers are not sustainable over time.”

She and Mehl also warned that they’re not ruling out other measures that have make Norway more attractive than other refugee destinations.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

To read the government’s own version of its changes in “regulations for displaced Ukrainians,” click here (external link to the government’s website).

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