Jon Ole Martinsen
Senior adviser in the Norwegian organization for asylum seekers
There must be a limit to how long people can live without rights in Norway.
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.
In Norway, there is a group of people who have had their lives on hold for 20 years. They have not had the opportunity to work, go to school, obtain housing or receive ordinary health services. They themselves consider it too risky or difficult to return to their home country, but they also do not receive a residence permit in Norway.
At the same time, for various reasons, it is difficult to forcibly return them.
The impossible choice
The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) meets many asylum seekers who have had their asylum application rejected. Each of them has their own history and personal reasons why they do not return voluntarily to their home country. Still, they have some common features. The vast majority come from war-torn countries or from regimes where human rights are poorly respected. A few of them are also stateless and not recognized as citizens of any country.
Many of those with whom NOAS is in contact believe that they have not received the correct processing of their asylum application. They experience that the immigration administration has underestimated the risk of returning or not believed in their explanation of why they need protection. More than half of the people who assist NOAS have their case changed.
An incorrect decision on the asylum application is very devastating for this group of people
This confirms precisely that the state commits an alarming number of errors in asylum cases, and that many do not receive the protection they need and are rightfully entitled to.
An incorrect decision on the asylum application is very devastating for this group of people. This can often mean that they are faced with the impossible choice between returning to the dangers they fled from, or living without very basic rights in Norway.
In the last 20 years, the Norwegian authorities have tightened repeatedly. It as an attempt for these people to choose to return to their home country. Long-term asylum seekers do not have the rights to work, go to school, study or receive ordinary health care. Nor can they marry or have family reunification.
This group of people live on a subsistence minimum without basic basic needs such as adequate food. In a survey conducted by Oslo Met, it appears that almost half of asylum seekers in Norwegian reception centers experience hunger.
Nevertheless, the figures for voluntary returns have been virtually unaffected by the austerity measures. Non-returnable asylum seekers choose to live in asylum reception centers or private addresses in Norway for years without fundamental rights, rather than returning to the conditions in their home country. This shows that the authorities’ strategy has not had the desired effect.
Challenges our commitments
Regardless of whether the decision was right or wrong when it was made, there must be a limit to how long a person can live as non-existent in that way in Norway. We can not allow human lives to perish in our country.
At the same time, it is important to emphasize that NOAS does not believe that all asylum seekers should be allowed to stay in Norway. On the contrary, we believe that it is important to return quickly for those who do not have a real need for protection. But here we are talking about a small group of people that the Norwegian authorities have not succeeded in forcibly returning. This is despite the fact that we have some of the best schemes in the world both in terms of assisted returns and forced returns.
We can not allow human lives to perish in our country
Already in 2003, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) in collaboration with the Norwegian Center for Human Rights tried to find a solution for this group. Then the proposal was that residence should be granted five years after final refusal if there is no doubt about identity, and after eight years in case of doubt.
The UDI pointed out that the way Norway treats long-term asylum seekers challenges our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and “respect for the individual human dignity”.
It has now been 18 years since the proposal was put forward. Several of the same people are still in the same terrible life situation. It is now high time that a solution is found that actually solves the situation.
The previous government made an attempt. But like NOAS warned about, and as the concrete outcome of the disposable solution now shows, it unfortunately includes far too few and makes unreasonable demands that few are able to meet. Numbers from The Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) shows that only 33 of the cases that have been processed so far meet the conditions.
It is now high time that a solution is found that actually solves the situation
What distinguishes Norway from several other countries in Europe is that there are very few long-term asylum seekers in the country with final rejection. According to figures from the UDI, less than 300 people with a duty to leave have been registered who have lived in a reception center for more than ten years.
When a historically low number of asylum seekers come to Norway today, we should be able to give this small group of people the opportunity to have a dignified life in Norway. These do not even form a drop in the ocean.
We are talking about so few people that Norway does not deserve our international reputation as a flag bearer of human rights if we are not able to take care of them.
A lasting solution
NOAS therefore believes that the government should introduce a broader one-off solution to clean up the situation that has arisen. There must be a lasting solution that to a greater extent protects individuals and ensures that we safeguard our human rights obligations.
The disposable solution must be put in place as soon as possible. It should be extended so that asylum seekers who have been here for more than ten years, regardless of age, are finally granted a permit.
Long-term asylum seekers are a complex group. It is therefore not a given that everyone should be allowed to stay in Norway. However, this can not stand in the way of finding good and dignified solutions that ensure that people who are in the middle of us are treated in accordance with human rights.