Asylum Policy in Norway: How a Norwegian government crisis perpetuates the brutal treatment of refugees

Photo : EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

It is now clear that the Norwegian minority government, mainstream conservatives and the radical right will be joined by the tiny Christian people’s (Kristelig Folkeparti-Krf) party in a new, strengthened coalition. After a nail biting internal vote where the Krf Knut Arild Hareide asked the party to support his Christian social values and topple the radical right minority government, the right wing won, Hareide steps down and next week new coalition negotiations start in Oslo.

Krf’s most important election pledge was not to go into government with the radical right Fremskrittspartiet (FrP). Krf got 4.2% of the national vote in 2017, Frp 15.2% but the October poll showed 10.4% support to FrP; the lowest the party has had seen since 1993. High ranking FrP politicians have in the last few months been involved in scandals that beggar belief and the leader of Oslo FrP Mazyar Keshvari had to step down due to corruption. Kesvari continues as an MP while the case is under investigation.

Politicians might have become too unprofessional and corrupt for FrP’s core electorate, they might even have become too openly authoritarian. The MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde supports Viktor Orbán’s clamp down on democracy in Hungary and the evangelical anti-immigrant Christian, Sylvi Listhaug MP, had to leave her ministerial post earlier this year due to inflammatory language and false accusations against the labour party.

The issues Hareide is concerned about are many but at the core is the government’s anti-immigration policy, racist rhetoric and brutal treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, especially of young Afghan boys. Norway deports more young Afghans than any other European country and has attracted international attention – with Amnesty International contacting the minister of justice to discuss individual cases; some returnees have even been tortured and killed. In 2016 the Norwegian foreign office decided that Afghanistan was safe and announced that as a result many more Afghan asylum seekers would be denied asylum, the same year 113 young Afghan asylum seekers disappeared from refugee reception centres.

At the time, the infamous Sylvie Listhaug of the radical right Fremskrittspartiet (FrP) who was the minister of immigration stressed that nobody who was a ‘real refugee’ should be deported but that the others should be sent back as it was safe for everybody else. To support her argument on the situation in Afghanistan, Listhaug said 90% of immigration to Europe was led by human traffickers and that many of the Afghan asylum seekers were brought into Norway by traffickers who were out to profit from – and exploit – vulnerable people. In so doing, she used her ability to manipulate the media by showing how concerned she was about victims of trafficking. Generalising and creating confusion by mixing asylum seekers, victims of trafficking and economic migrants by diverting the discussion away from human rights and Norway’s international obligations in accordance with the European Human Rights Convention and the Geneva Convention is a strategy for Listhaug and FrP use to appeal to core voters.

The policy change of 2016 was supported by the Labour Party, the Centre Party, The Conservative Party and the radical right FrP. There is a broad consensus within the country around the intolerant deportation policy that puts lives in danger and contravenes international law. This is this situation that leads young Afghan asylum seeker in Norway to escape before they turn 18 – with many ending up in France in 2017. In Paris a large group of these young men were sleeping rough by the metro station Jaurès where they were harassed by the police, and even tear gassed, but still they felt safer there than in Norway. Some were sent back to Norway who then returned them to Afghanistan

In the case that follows, it seems like France now recognises that Norway is not a safe place for these kids, and a judge in Paris ruled it unsafe to send the young asylum seekers back to Norway. The solicitor representing one of the asylum seekers Jean–Philippe Petit said he was shocked by the speedy turnover of asylum cases in Norway and how Norway had failed to systematically investigate the security situation in the young man’s province. Petit referred to Article 3 in the European Convention on Human rights and the ban on torture and inhumane treatment. If Norway wasn’t going to respect humanitarian law – France is committed to do so, Petit argued.

In the Amnesty International report ‘Forced back to danger’, Norway’s practice is mentioned several times with evidence that refugees returned to Afghanistan from Norway have been kidnapped and killed. Amnesty contacted the Minister of Justice to no avail and the Norwegian authorities still insist Afghanistan is safe and continue returning Afghans as soon as they turn 18. Amnesty wrote:

‘In light of the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, Amnesty International considers that Afghans forcibly returned to Afghanistan may be exposed to serious harm and persecution’.  Amnesty was particularly concerned over Norwegian policies and practices against Afghan asylum seekers.

There was a drop in asylum given from 82% in 2015 to 30% in 2016 and Norway forcibly returned more in sheer numbers than any other European country and Norway sends back people at risk of very serious risks of human rights violations. Amnesty provides evidence that Norway has violated the principle of non-refoulement which is a binding principle in international law which ‘prohibits the transfer of anyone to a place they are at serious risk of human rights violations’.

The tragedy is that even if the left, in majority but unable to present an alternative coalition, as in other European countries seems unable or unwilling to voice a united opposition against this brutality. Fortress Europe looks set to continue.

Dr Mette Wiggen is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and a lecturer at the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds, specializing on the extreme right in Europe. See her profile here:

© Mette Wiggen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives)