Published on April 7th, 2016 | by KARL WERNER & PETER AARRESTAD TIME
NORWEGIAN IMMIGRATION POLITICS
According to Norwegian statistics an immigrant is defined as ”a person that resides in Norway, but is born elsewhere and whose parents are born elsewhere.” Norway also defines an immigrant as a person which by themselves has migrated to Norway (with two non-Norwegian parents), and persons born in Norway by two non-Norwegian parents. With respect to this definition, Norway´s immigrant population is totalling 805 000 people, which accounts for roughly 16 % of the total population. The number of immigrants in Norway rose by 46 000 people from 1 January 2014 – 1 January 2015, and by 30 000 from 1 January 2015 – 1 January 2016.
Norway´s immigrant population consists of people from 222 different countries and self-governed regions. Oslo is the municipality that contains the largest proportion of immigrants, totalling 32 % of its residents as of 1 January 2015. Ever since immigration to Norway rapidly increased in the 1970´s there has existed a discussion on whether immigration economically boosts or burdens the society. Research seems to show that while labour-immigration generally is economically favourable for the country, it is also contributing to push down wages for low-paying jobs, which are often performed by workers with minimal formal education and/or inadequate work experience.
It is important to bear in mind that most of Norway´s immigrants who are under the spotlight now are refugees. A refugee is by law defined differently than a migrant, and different international laws and conventions apply.
“Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.”
Ever since the Geneva Refugee Convention was signed and internationally approved in 1951, refugees have had certain rights under international law:
- The right not to be returned to their country of origin if their safety cannot be assured,
- The right not to be penalized for entering a country illegally if they request asylum,
- The right to life, religious expression, security, primary education, free access to courts, and equal treatment by taxing authorities.
According to Stratfor, an American intelligence agency dealing with geopolitical issues, Norway has in the past, and is still facing certain challenges as a state. Stratfor states in its analysis of Norway
”…The country’s core lies in the southeast around its capital Oslo. This lowland region is Norway´s most habitable and is closest to the more populated parts of Europe. With the rugged coastline consisting of about fifty thousand islands, the Scandinavian mountains stretching the length of the country, and proximity to the Arctic, Norway is difficult to populate, and therefore control. …After gaining independence in 1905, and maintaining neutrality throughout World War I, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940, despite again proclaiming neutrality. Following the war, Norway joined NATO, and tightened economic relations with continental Europe to increase its national security…Therefore the upcoming geographic challenge for Norway, with its small population, is to secure its interests in the north through exploration and collaboration.”
Therefore it would be, as Stratfor states, directly in Norway´s economic, strategic, and national interest to increase its population and demographic distribution. As a result of the collapse of oil prices in recent years, Norway has experienced a drop of the Norwegian Krone (NOK). Subsequently, the domestic economy is reaping the rewards through an upward surge in GDP. The housing business, especially in the Oslo area, is experiencing a boom heavily fuelled by immigration.
A central aspect in the current refugee and immigration discussion is the relation between Norway and Russia regarding the arctic migration route along the Norwegian-Russian border in the North. The recent stream of millions of refugees from the Middle- and Near-East, especially Syria, puts pressure on central European countries and creates a particular situation. Norway’s policy in that context is thus contra productive and paradox; since 16 December 2015, Sylvi Listhaug, a politician from the FrP, the right wing populistic party, has been Norway’s first Minister for Immigration and Integration. Having Donald Trump as a minister for international peace and justice? Appointing Sylvi Listhaug as minister for immigration and integration is a similar short-sighted absurdity; an unwise and disturbing new trend in Norwegian politics. The only good thing about that decision is that she hasn’t suggested building a wall to Russia yet. Sylvi Listhaug is mainly famous for seeking tighter immigration rules and letting fewer refugees into Norway. It is uncertain though if Norway breaks the UN Convention of Refugees by sending them back to Russia. By international law, it is not allowed to send refugees back to their country of origin, or to another country which cannot guarantee a refugee’s safety. But it is at this point not clear how Russia will treat the refugees. It seems safe to say though that refugees would actually be safer in Norway than in Russia, since Russia only acknowledged two (!!!) applications for asylum last year.
From a moral point of view, Norway’s choice of Sylvi Listhaug, is highly condemnable, and additionally seems to not satisfy Norway’s demographic demands. Norway’s move to appoint her as Minister for Immigration and Integration shows the direction of the government – it does not want refugees. Obviously, Norway is not in the EU and thus has fewer obligations regarding the acceptance of refugees than other EU member countries. However, Norway has a global responsibility, as every other country, especially from the “Western World”. As a family-friendly country with a functional social welfare system, one would expect a more long-sighted, smart and welcoming policy. Norway shows at this point that its policy is neither modern nor solves problems of the globalized 21st Century; Norway´s immigration policies at this point in time appear to be over-conservative and narrow-minded.