As a new book criticising the Norwegian government’s harsh asylum policy is published, several municipalities are refusing to settle those allowed to stay.
“Children are the targets”
Rune Berglund Steen, who is also communications manager at Norway’s Centre Against Racisim, has authored ‘Svartebok over norsk asylpolitikk’ (’Black book about Norwegian asylum policy’).He is highly critical to the tri-partite coalition’s methods.
The some 350-page book covers subjects about people forcibly deported back home despite facing torture, and child asylum seekers being subjected to systematic discrimination by the Norwegian state.
Having worked with refugees’ fates in Norway, he also writes about that children can no longer expect treatment according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Maria Amelie (Madina Salamova), who was deported from Norway to Moscow last year but returned as a labour migrant some four months later, says the book “shows that the public is poorly informed about the intimidating Norwegian asylum policy... and how vulnerable people's needs are being ignored in the system.”
Mr Steen says to The Foreigner, “the main hallmark of the present government is that for the first time, it has made children the main target of a brand of hard, experimental, and restrictive asylum policy.”
“Examples include issuing unaccompanied children temporary residence permits only until they turn 18, when they are supposed to be deported to war-torn countries. Those from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia, for example, often suffered tremendous harm before they came to Norway,” he continues.
The Foreigner has also previously written articles about hundreds of children living in limbo in Norway's asylum reception centres whose parents’ final applications have been turned down, and who risk being deported back home. Some of them were born and raised in Norway.
Coalition politicians, including local Labour (Ap) ones, have protested government policies, arguing the interests of the child should come first after they have been in Norway for a certain length of time.
Heikki Holmås, former immigration policy spokesperson and now Minister of International Development for the Socialist Left (SV), thinks this should be three years.
“We need to have a new policy in place for long-waiting refugee children...their rights should be increased. Although the government says immigration law weighs heavier, it should be the attachment of the child to Norway that does instead,” he told The Foreigner earlier this year.
Rune Berglund Steen
Finn Ståle Felberg/Forlaget ManifestLabour Deputy Minister of Justice Pål Lønseth has expressed the importance of parents not using their children as a tool to gain residency “when the family did not meet the requirements for this initially.”
“It’s scandalous”, says Rune Berglund Steen, “to allege that parents are pushing their children ahead of them. Would he do the same with his children?”
“Parents are most concerned about their own children and that they might suffer harm. Alternatively, parents are worried that they may not be able to look after them if they suffer harm themselves.”
Mr Steen declares that the Deputy Minister is “just attributing cynical motives instead of identifying with these parents and their children He shouldn’t generalise about people he does not even know.”
"Author Berglund Steen claims that refugees in Norway are subjected to injustices on a daily basis," Deputy Minister of Justice Lønseth writes in an email to The Foreigner. "This claim is unfounded. Asylum seekers in need of international protection, are granted asylum in Norway. Currently, the recognition rate is about fifty percent. Those who do not meet the criteria, however, are obligated to leave Norway. Effectuating returns is a priority for the current administration, and the number of returns carried out is increasing steadily."
The government has rejected calls for an amnesty, and has now presented its whitepaper on asylum children, which also addresses those who come to Norway alone. It contains no major legislation changes.
At the proposal stage, officials asked the Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) to take the best interests of the child more into account when looking at cases where applications have been rejected.
Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion Inga Marte Thorkildsen, and Ann-Magrit Austenå at the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) greeted it positively.
UNE director Terje Sjeggestad declared he did not feel bound by the suggestion, however, and his organisation would not be looking upon asylum cases involving children any differently.
Meanwhile, the Directorate of Immigration and Diversity (IMDi) tells The Foreigner 2,864 adult refugees who have had their applications approved were still staying in asylum reception centres as of 31 July.
819 know in which municipality they will be settled, but officials either cannot or will not accept all the over 2,800.
An IMDi official says all they can do is request the municipalities settle refugees as it is voluntary.
Reasons for not accepting refugees are many and varied. Bodø municipality has agreed to 70 in 2012, and the directorate has asked for a further 20 to be settled before the New Year.
Deputy Justice Minister Pål Lønseth
Ministry of Justice/Flickr“We have major challenges attending to the rest of the housing market,” Bodø Conservative (H) mayor Ole Hjartøy told NRK, Wednesday, “so we have to impose a limit to be able to cope with the refugees as well as the locals who are here already.”
“It’s not a case of a lack of political will. We just don’t have any more properties to offer,” he said in response to Labour (Ap) municipal councillor Ida Pinnerød’s statement about where there is a will, there is a way.
Nordland regional IMDi director Dulo Dizdarevic declares, “These persons [the refugees] have to get out [of the asylum reception centres] as soon as possible. They’ve been given a residence permit following thorough consideration. Every single day they spend inside is one day less for qualification and integration.”
Oslo city council has now changed its mind and decided not to accept any further refugees this year. The move follows a pre 2012 budget deal with Progress’ (FrP) Carl I. Hagen, the capital’s health and social committee group leader.
“We tried to get the number down during negotiations, lower than 410. The Progress Party in Oslo has always fought for a lesser figure for the capital because we have major integration problems, and other parts of the country can chip in. It’s obvious that we react very negatively when they wish to increase something already in the budget deal without speaking to us.”
2,678 (17 percent) of the asylum seekers living in reception centers in Norway, are still waiting for a decision on their application from the Directorate of Immigration (UDI). Average case processing time is 162 days, a press spokesperson informs The Foreigner.
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