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Norway's hardline asylum bill heads to parliament

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Norway's hardline asylum bill heads to parliament
PM Erna Solberg and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug presented the proposed changes on Tuesday. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix
16:21 CEST+02:00
A long-awaited asylum and integration proposal was formally presented to parliament on Tuesday.
The final version of the bill saw the Norwegian government scaling back its controversial requirements on family reunificaiton for refugees, saying that it will be enough for them to have been employed or in education for three years before bringing their family to Norway instead of the original four-year proposal.
 
Even with the reduction from four to three years, the family reunificaiton rules will be much stricter than they are today, primarily because of changes to the so-called ‘maintenance requirement’ (underholdskravet), which will now require that refugees can support their family members from day one before they can be brought to Norway. 
 
Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug, who represents the anti-immigration Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), has been criticized by opposition parties and a number of outside agencies for the 40-point plan she introduced in December.
 
The 150-page document has now been through its hearing phase and was presented to parliament on Tuesday. 
 
In the final version, the so-called 24-year-old proposal for family reunification remained in place, barring all under-24s from obtaining spousal reunification, as did a controversial proposal to give all unaccompanied minor asylum seekers only temporary residence until they turn 18. 
 
Refugees will have to be in Norway for five years, instead of the current three, before they can achieve permanent residency or extend their temporary permits, but the government backed off its self-sufficiency requirements, saying now that foreigners must only be employed for 12 months before achieving permanent residency rather than the originally proposed three years. 
 
It was also reported on Tuesday that the government has a political majority behind a plan to allow police to jail “groundless” asylum seekers for up to 72 hours as their cases are processed. 
 
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that none of the government’s asylum and immigration plans would run afoul of international conventions.
 
“We are on solid ground,” she said. “It’s important to remember that [the UN's] High Commissioner [for Refugees - UNHCR] has an activist position on what human rights are. It’s not an objective organ,” she told NTB. 
 
“Our position is that the proposal is clearly within the refugee conventions,” she added.
 
The UNHCR said in January that it was "deeply concerned" by Norway's plans to tighten rules for family reunifications and said the Norwegian government's decision to send migrants back to Russia was "cause for concern".
 
A total of 35,358 asylum seekers arrived in Norway in 2015, compared with just 11,480 in the previous year. Figures released by the Norwegian Immigration Directorate on Tuesday showed that 942 people have sought asylum through the first three months of 2016. That is down from 1,670 in the same period last year. 
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