Norway to return young Afghan asylum seekers

Norway and other Northern European countries have begun negotiations aimed at returning teenage Afghan asylum seekers to their home country.

Norway to return young Afghan asylum seekers
Photo: FameFotografene. Janne Oline Rannes.

Just “a few details” and “approval” from authorities in Kabul appear to remain, news agency NTP reported Justice Minister Pål Lønseth saying. The discussion appears to have gone on for many months.

Sweden has led the talks embarked on by Britain, Denmark, Norway and The Netherlands. The stated aim is to send back kids whose application for asylum has failed because they have not demonstrated a need for “protection” against being sent back to war-torn Afghanistan.

New asylum centres in their home country would attempt to provide care, schooling and skills training, the state secretary said. It’s unclear whether the same western countries would have a say in the running and funding of the new centres.

The proposed move already has critics among organizations familiar with the reality of life for the youngsters if sent back. Among the plan’s critics is the Norwegian branch of non-governmental Save the Children, or Redd Barna.

“It seems odd to send kids and teenagers to a country which is so unstable,” Janne Oline Raanes of Redd Barna told The Local. She warns that children will likely spend little time in the planned “reception centres” before applying for asylum again.

“Norway isn’t taking responsibility for children on the run with this plan, and they’re operating in contravention of the United Nations’ recommendations,” Raanes said.

The Justice Ministry maintains each refugee’s security situation was being individually evaluated and none would be returned if it wasn’t deemed safe.

“It is not the case that refugee claimants can’t be returned to a place just because it isn’t as safe as Norway,” Lønseth said.

Young Afghan men and teenagers make up around half of the 717 juvenile asylum applications the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has received so far this year.

The ministry says it has always maintained that its policy has been to secure the safety of refugees as close to conflict areas as possible.

“Where this is not possible, Norway will contribute by taking in refugees and giving them residency protection here in this country,” the department’s website says.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.