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IMMIGRATION

Oslo mayor welcomes immigrant boom

Oslo’s mayor Fabian Stang has said he is unconcerned by statistics showing that immigrants will make up half of Oslo’s population three decades from now.

Oslo mayor welcomes immigrant boom
Photo: Anette Karlsen/Scanpix

His reaction stood in stark contrast to that of Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who immediately called for tighter restrictions on immigration when Statistics Norway published its projections on Tuesday.

“No, I’m not concerned,” Stang told news agency NTB.  

“But the high number shows that we’ll have a major task integrating immigrants. It’s up to parliament and the government to decide how many people will move to the country. Our job is to integrate them.”

The mayor pointed out that 2040 remains a distant point in time: by then, many immigrants will have lived in Norway for almost 100 years.

“It’s an interesting question as to how long one should be considered an immigrant. For me, the most important thing is to be able to provide all immigrants with the best possible schools so they can receive a good education and get a job. It’s then of lesser importance what skin colour, religion or sexual orientation one has,” said Stand.

In 2040, 70 percent of the Norwegian capital’s first and second generation immigrants will have their roots in countries outside the 30-member European Economic Area, Statistics Norway said.

The study, the first ever projection of immigration trends to be published in Norway, shows that the largest cities will also see the biggest upsurge in immigrant numbers.  

Immigrants are defined in the statistics as either people who have either moved to Norway from another country, or the Norway-born children of two first-generation immigrants.

According to Statistics Norway’s most likely scenario, Oslo’s immigrant population will rise from today’s 28 percent to 47 percent in 2040.

In the country as a whole, the immigrant population is expected to jump from 12 to 24 percent, or from 600,000 people today to 1.5 million in 2040.

Centre Party Secretary of State Dag-Henrik Sandbakken, at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, noted that rising immigration is part of a global trend that will continue to present Norway with a mixture of possibilities and challenges.

“Norway has benefited from the high level of workforce immigration to the country in recent years. Statistics Norway’s prognosis makes for exciting reading, even if it also entails many uncertainties,” Sandbakken told NTB.

Local governments all over the country have become more accustomed to immigration and are well prepared to meet new integration challenges head on, said Sandbakken.  

But for Siv Jensen, the trend is deeply worrying.

“For far too long Norway has been an attractive country for asylum seekers and immigrants. The Progress Party believes it’s high time for more restrictive policies,” she said on Tuesday.

“The more immigrants there are the more difficult it will be to make integration work,” according to the 42-year-old head of the populist opposition party, which has long called for stricter immigration rules.

Jensen said the Progress Party wanted Norway to hand out fewer residence permits to immigrants. She also called for the country to tighten immigration policy loopholes.

For instance, she suggested that an immigrant marrying somebody from the same country of origin in Norway should not automatically be granted residency.

“We must admit that there are major differences in the types of integration challenges posed by different immigrants.

"Norway still has a major need for workers, and labour-market immigration from Eastern Europe presents completely different integration challenges than immigration from Eastern Africa,” said Jensen.

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POLITICS

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.

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