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IMMIGRATION

Progress Party to asylum seekers: Act Norwegian

Norway’s right-wing populist Progress Party wants asylum seekers to show they’re serious about fitting in before they can be granted permanent residency.

Progress Party to asylum seekers: Act Norwegian
Photo: Erlend Aas/Scanpix (File)

Seemingly irked by immigrants who fail to integrate, the party is calling on would-be residents to dress like Norwegians, speak Norwegian, get jobs, respect Norwegian culture and values, adhere to the proper use of welfare benefits, and generally behave impeccably, newspaper Dagbladet reports.

“It’s a fact that many asylum seekers don’t want to be part of Norwegian society,” said immigration policy spokesman Morten Ørsal Johansen.

“Those who don’t wish to work and don’t learn Norwegian shouldn’t be given permanent residency.”

The new policies drawn up by Johansen, along with colleagues Gjermund Hagesæter and Åge Starheim, enjoy the full support of the party leadership, the newspaper said.

According to Johansen, it’s important to place demands on immigrants wishing to remain in the country.

“To take an example: a woman who declines to take a job because she can’t wear a burqa should have to face the consequences. People who don’t want to work shouldn’t get permanent residence permits,” he said.

Anyone applying to stay in Norway on a permanent basis – the last step before full citizenship – should also have to take a test to prove their knowledge of Norwegian language and society, Johansen believes.

The proposals were quickly slammed by Inga Marte Thorkildsen (Socialist Left), Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, who accused the Progress Party of exaggerating problems associated with integration.

“I’ve hardly even heard of a woman being denied a job because she demands to wear a burqa to work,” said Thorkildsen.

“One major equality problem that does exist however is that of women not joining the labour market because they have long been isolated in the home with Progress Party-supported cash incentives. And a recent study shows that job seekers with a foreign name have a 25-percent lower chance of getting work with Norwegian employers,” the minister added.

The Labour Party’s Lise Christoffersen meanwhile categorized the proposals as the latest in a series of frivolous initiatives from the Progress Party.

The Conservative and Liberal parties, the Progress Party's opposition partners, were similarly unimpressed.

"Either you're granted asylum or you're not granted asylum. And if you have the right to protection in Norway, government authorities should not use the asylum institution as a bargaining chip for a desired lifestyle," Conservative Party immigration policy spokesman Trond Helleland told news agency NTB.

Liberal Party deputy chief Terje Breivik was equally blunt.

"We totally disagree with these demands. In this regard, the Liberals represent a clear alternative to both the government and the Progress Party," he said.

The Progress Party scored 22.9 percent of the vote in the 2009 general election, earning it 41 seats in parliament.

Progress Party residency proposals in brief:

– Anyone applying for permanent residency must have lived in Norway for the previous six years, as opposed to the current three-year limit.

– A jail-term of at least one year should lead to reduced residency rights. Minor transgressions should lead to a lengthening of the minimum application deadline.

– All money owed to the state or municipalities must be repaid.

– Applicants must have worked full time for at least two-and-a-half of the previous three years and may not have received any social welfare benefits in that period.

– Applicants should be required to sign a declaration of integration and citizenship.

– Applicants must have passed a Norwegian 2 language test, or equivalent.

– Applicants who have participated in voluntary work or other activities that display an active interest in Norwegian life should have this taken into account when applying for residency. 

– A reward system should be put in place to set a high standard for the integration of foreign citizens.

– Family reunification should require compliance with the terms and conditions required for the granting of permanent residence permits.

– People coming to Norway through family reunification programmes should not have the right to bring along further family members.

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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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