Opponents of the government's hard-line asylum plans at a January demonstration in Oslo. Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB scanpix
“As long as redistribution in Europe doesn’t work, there are just a few countries that are very attractive [destinations for refugees, ed.]. Norway is one of them,” Listhaug said.
European countries have recently been under fire for what critics say is a race to the bottom to establish the strictest national asylum policies.
But Listhaug said that with several Eastern European countries having agreed to accept refugees, the fact that the refugees don’t accept the offer is proof that for many asylum seekers are comparing the conditions of the host countries rather than settling for a place where they will be safe.
“It has developed into a form of asylum shopping, where the refugees themselves want to choose which country they can come to that has good welfare conditions and democracy,” she said.
Asylum restrictions over Easter
Asylum and immigration policy was on the agenda when Listhaug on Friday met with the Council of Europe’s secretary general, Thorbjørn Jagland.
Jagland has criticized several of Listhaug’s proposed asylum changes, saying that her plans to make family reunification requirements more stringent, provide only temporary residency for minors and turn away asylum seekers at the border would violate Norway’s international conventions.
Listhaug said only that she “noted” his input and will continue to get the asylum package finalized over the Easter holiday. She said that a “sustainable immigration” policy is the government’s top priority and insisted that the proposals would be within the framework of international conventions signed by Norway.
“It’s important for us to remain within the conventions that we have committed ourselves to following and we will ensure that we do that when we present the proposal to parliament,” she said.
Jagland has previously criticized several EU countries for the measures they have taken to slow the influx of refugees, including the closure of borders and returning asylum seekers without due process.
He warned that the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has a clear line when it comes to family reunification and “one should not come in conflict with it”.
Listhaug’s asylum package calls for refugees to have held a job or been in education for four years before they can bring their family members to Norway. That goes even further than the country’s southern neighbour Denmark, which has been heavily criticized for making refugees wait three years to be reunited with their families.
Jagland, a former Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, was in Norway on Friday for his first official visit as secretary general. He was also due to meet with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Justice Minister Anders Anundsen.