Norwegians fear disease from refugees

Norwegians are so fearful that incoming refugees will bring diseases that some people have even started wearing protective gloves, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) has warned.

Norwegians fear disease from refugees
A pair of latex drugs such as those worn by worried Norwegians. Photo: WIkia

Trude Arnesen, chief physician at the NIPH's Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology told Norway's public broadcaster NRK that his institute had received a surge in calls from members of the public

“Some have imaginative worries, for example that bus seats will be infected by contagious diseases,” he said. Some people have started to use gloves.”

Norway has seen a sharp increase in the number of refugees entering the country, with 2,800 asylum applications filed so far this month, and 20,000 people expected to arrive this year.

NIPH maintains that the refugees do not pose a threat to Norwegian public, because, even though many have had a tough time on their journey to Norway, they are statistically not sicker than the majority of Norwegians.

“There are no special precautions needed. The refugees do not carry any diseases that we don't have in our flora already,” Arnesen told NRK.

“We know that it is the healthiest people in a population that migrate. They're those who have the strength and resources to manage such a journey.”

Nonetheless, Hero, a company which runs asylum centres in Norway said it was offering extra vaccinations to staff. 

“All new employees are offered vaccinations and the cost in covered by the employer,” Eli Størset, a senior advisor at Hero Norway, told NRK. 

Størset agreed that the risk of infection is minimal, even for people who work closely with refugees who have just arrived every day.

“For example tuberculosis, we have not had a case among our employees ever. The risk is minimal. The vaccination programme in voluntary. Many chose to do it, and many chose not to,” Størset said.

Although refugees do not pose a health threat in Norway, there are serious health problems among the estiamted two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Many Syrian children have not been vaccinated against the measles due to the break down of the health care system in Syria during the ongoing civil war.

This has caused an increase in the number of cases of measles and other illnesses in Turkey, where children living in refugee camps are now being immunised.
“Turkey will see the negative effects of an increase in epidemic diseases that are being brought by Syrian refugees who are admitted [to Turkey] without the proper health safety measures taken,” İstanbul Public Health Directorate Secretary-General Dr. Tuna İman told Turkey's Today's Zaman news.


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.