Norway’s government loses vote over ‘October children’ asylum reassessments

A parliamentary majority of 66 percent has voted in favour of the opposition Labour party’s proposal for rule changes which require certain asylum cases to be reassessed.

Norway’s government loses vote over 'October children' asylum reassessments
Immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug speaking in parliament. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix

Acceptance of the proposal means that all cases of unaccompanied minors decided since October 1st 2016 will now be reassessed, including the so-called “October children” from Afghanistan who arrived in 2015 and had been slated for deportation due to reaching the age of 18.

Immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug reacted with scepticism after the government lost the parliamentary vote requiring reassessment of the cases of unaccompanied minors, reports NRK.

Asylum seekers whose cases are to be reassessed will not be deported until new decisions over their applications are reached.

Listhaug was critical of the outcome of the parliamentary vote.

“I have to say that I am surprised at the way parliament dealt with a complex issue like this,” she told NRK.

“Today parliament has made a decision on an issue [the rule change, ed.] that has not been through thorough assessment in the [immigration] Ministry, nor in the parliamentary committee. That is in spite of the fact that the issue has been discussed over a long period of time and that a proposal has already been submitted to the committee,” she said.

The Labour proposal relates to a change in rules relating to under-age asylum seekers that arrive in Norway unaccompanied and are given so-called temporary residence (midlertidig opphold).

The proposal changes the way in which young asylum seekers’ cases are assessed, putting more emphasis on ‘vulnerability’ (sårbarhet).

This particularly affects the cases of those who would be returned to a different region of a country to where they are from – effectively deporting them to internal displacement, NRK reported on Monday night.

Labour has previously stated its opposition to a proposal by other parties to freeze all deportations to Afghanistan.

The reassessments must be carried out individually and will not necessarily result in all being granted asylum, according to the NRK's report.

Labour deputy leader Trond Giske told the broadcaster that around 200 to 300 people would have their cases reviewed as a result of the parliamentary vote, but that the number who would see a reversal of their decision depends on the assessment of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).

READ ALSO: Norway ministers advise against freeze on Afghan deportations


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.