Norway’s asylum policies ‘Europe’s strictest’

Norway’s leading refugee charity has accused the government of “a race to the bottom” on asylum after a politician claimed that new asylum reforms gave the country “the strictest asylum policy in Europe”.

Norway's asylum policies 'Europe's strictest'
Progress Party deputy leader Per Sandberg in parliament. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix
Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council,   made his protest over Twitter after comments by Per Sandberg, deputy leader of the Progress Party. 
The asylum reforms agreed in Norway’s parliament on Thursday have been widely seen as a victory for the anti-immigrant Progress party, the junior partner in Norway’s ruling coalition. 
“If all these measures work, Norway will probably be the strictest country in Europe, along with Denmark,” Sandberg told Norway’s NTB newswire. “The political environment in Norway has taken a major step towards the Progress party.” 
Sandberg pointed out that the sharp rise in the number of refugees coming into Norway in recent months had increased support for his party's anti-immigration stance. 
“It’s a completely different climate,” he said. “The reality has now come home for the other parties too.” 
Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre denied that the other parties had given Progress exactly what it wanted. 
“Progress is simply making a sales pitch to its own ranks,” he said. “The fact that Progress has supported some of these reforms does not make them worse: it is the content we need to consider, not who supports it.” 
The Danish People’s Party, Progress's Danish counterpart, has long boasted, not without cause, that the immigration laws it has pushed Denmark’s governments to enact since 2002 are “Europe’s strictest”. 
Jan Egeland, a former Labour party politician, found YouTube fame in 2012 when the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis released a song and music video celebrating (and mercilessly ribbing) his long and varied career working to resolve international conflicts and crises. 


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.