Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that Norway will begin returning asylum seekers to other countries in Europe.
“We must uphold the structures we have. It isn’t like an asylum seeker can choose which country their case is handled in. The first country in which they are registered should handle their case,” she told Aftenposten.
The head of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 of the roughly 33,000 asylum seekers who came to Norway in 2015 will be returned to other countries under the Dublin Regulation, which states that asylum seekers should have their cases processed by the first EU member state that they entered.
Norway, while not a member of the EU, has a separate agreement with the union to apply the regulation.
The Nordic nation is looking to send some 860 asylum seekers, including around 50 Syrians, to Hungary, which has been criticised for its heavy-handed treatment of refugees and migrants. Norway filed an official request with Hungary at the end of November and an answer is expected by the end of January.
The Norwegian Organization for Asylum (NOAS) said it worries about the safety of asylum seekers that will be sent back to Hungary, pointing to an Austrian report that concluded that Hungary is unsafe for refugees.
Likewise, the Norwegian Embassy in Budapest warned the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs last summer that “xenophobia in Hungary is at an historically high level”.
Hungary, for its part, said that asylum seekers should not be sent back its way.
“Everyone is obligated to seek asylum in the first country they come to, but you just need to look at our borders – Hungary can’t be the first asylum country. The refugees passed other countries’ borders before they came to Hungary,” the country’s ambassador to Norway, Anna-Marie Sikó, told Aftenposten.
According to Aftenposten, it has already been decided that roughly 400 Syrian asylum seekers will be returned to other EU countries. Of those, 88 are children.