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IMMIGRATION

‘Difficult for Sweden to register refugees’

Norway on Friday pulled back from criticising Sweden after the country’s migration authorities admitted that they could not force refugees to register if they wanted to move onwards to Norway.

'Difficult for Sweden to register refugees'
Jøran Kallmyr, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, believes EU countries are all coming under pressure. Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB scanpix
“Many EU countries are now experiencing the challenge that people evade detection, and it is difficult for the authorities to have an overview of all the refugees who have arrived,” Jøran Kallmyr, a Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, said on Friday evening, after Finland’s Interior Minister criticised Sweden for doing too little to prevent refugee coming through. 
 
“Through my contact with Sweden, they confirm that they are prepared to comply with the Schengen commitments and their obligations under international law,” he added.
 
Norway’s newspapers on Friday argued that Sweden was following Denmark’s example and no longer forcing refugees to register in the country if they wanted to move on to Finland or Norway.  
 
“It is important to emphasise that we do not force anyone to give up fingerprints or seek asylum in Sweden,” Rexhep Hajirizi, an emergency coordinator with the Swedish Migration Agency in Malmö, was quoted as saying by the NTB newswire. 
 
Finland’s interior minister Petteri Orpo on Thursday night criticised Sweden because its national train company SJ had allowed refugees to travel by train through into Finland without checking documents. 
 
“It cannot be that Sweden, as an EU member, a Schengen country and a Dublin country, is such that its oversight of foreigners dies not work in the way that it has agreed it should,” Orpo said. 
 
Kallemyr was very clear that Norway expected Sweden to continue upholding the Dublin rules. 
 
“Under the Dublin system, it is envisaged that asylum seekers should not be sent from one country to another, and it is not up to the asylum seekers to decide which Schengen country they want to seek asylum in,” he said.
 
Norway’s Justice Minister Anders Amundsen will travel to Brussels on Monday for an emergency meeting on the refugee crisis. 
 
Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned in a debate on Friday that the government should have “ice in its stomach” during the negotiations on how to distribute the 160,000 refugees the European Commission believe will need to be settled across the union this year. 
 
“I do not think that it is prudent for the Norwegian asylum system and Norwegian municipalities to say that no matter how many people are coming to Norway, we’ll take a little bit more,” she said. “Now we need some ice in the stomach.” 
 
She said Norway was receiving near record numbers of asylum seekers, with some 700 coming to Norway last week. 
 
“Norway is a generous country. We are contributing a great national effort,” she said. 
 
Norwegian volunteer groups are following the example of Swedes and Danes who have helped refugees travel across borders without  registering with the authorities, something police warned was a criminal offence. 
 
“To carry people across the border without valid travel documents is considered human smuggling,” police lawyer John Skarpeid said on Friday after four Norwegians were charged for human trafficking on Thursday. 
 

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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