‘No One Is Illegal’ Campaign Aims To Protect Norway’s ‘paperless’ Refugees
Oslo, Norway: This year for 2010 marks Norway as the highest ranked nation on the recent United Nation’s global Human Development Index (HDI), but the country is facing a human rights challenge. The November report shows that an average Norwegian can expect to live 81 years, attend school for 12.6 years, and earn $58,000 annually; but are these conditions available equally to all people, especially the women living in Norway?
Not every woman today in Norway is given the benefits of equality in Norwegian society, even though the northern state is known for its advocacy for gender equity. Current facts show that numerous immigrant refugee women are actually slipping through the cracks in Norway’s system of human rights.
“There are more than 40 million refugees globally; still the wealthiest country in the world goes catastrophic when a small fraction of them arrive,” outlines Kari Helene Partapuoli, Director of The Norwegian Center against Racism and Discrimination, in a recent interview with Women News Network.
This fall many organizations in the country will be working to raise public awareness about the vulnerable group of ‘paperless’ people living in Norway. A majority of paperless people in Norway are asylum seekers. Many women asylum seekers, despite rejections, have stayed to live inside the country with their families.
“Norway has one of the strictest policies towards this (paperless) group,” Partapuoli sighed. “Asylum policies must adapt to a more humane outlook, but unfortunately that is not a political winner.”
Twenty-five year old, Maria Amelie, and her parents, fled from Northern Caucasus during the ethnic apartheid tied to the region. They escaped to Moscow, but faced further struggles. Later they went to Finland, then on to Norway to build a new life. Amelie was a minor when she arrived in ‘the land of the fjords’. Eight years and a master’s degree later, Maria still remains an unrecognized ‘illegal’ in Norway.
With her recently published book, Ulovlig norsk (Illegally Norwegian), Maria gives a powerful personal contribution to the growing public debate on Norwegian asylum policies. Speaking out publicly may put her and her parents in greater risk of being deported to Russia, a country where she and her family fear for their lives.
“I realized that I cannot live a lie anymore,” said Amelie at a conference on paperless people at the Oslo House of Literature in October. “The book (Ulovlig norsk) became a voice of hope. Hope that someone will understand that the feeling of home in your heart takes a long time to build.”
More Than a Piece of Paper
Initially, upon their arrival in Norway, Maria and her parents were sent to live in a number of Norwegian institutions for asylum seekers. “The atmosphere in those institutions is tense, and I felt degraded. It was through making friends I learned that ‘I too’ am a human being. I am more than an asylum seeker, more than a piece of paper,” Maria reflected.
On the rejection of her family’s asylum application they felt they had nowhere safe to go. “If my parents had accepted the rejection (and left) there is a chance I would not be alive today. Life is not black and white, and the laws are not always supporting the weakest,” she emphasized.
Maria has lived a life that on the outside does not seem to differ much from everybody else’s. “I have lived without an official permit to exist for almost as long as I can remember, so the reality of not having an ID number or a bank account was not an adaptation,” she explains.
But some aspects of her reality entail constant anxiety. “I was scared of telephones with new rejections,” admits Amelie.
Recently, Maria has applied again for a residency permit from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), but does not know whether she or her parents will ever receive status as ‘legal’ immigrants. Still her smile is remarkably genuine. “It is important to see the good also when things seem hopeless,” she shares.
As a Norwegian ‘illegal,’ Maria has not dared to seek medical help in fear of being deported as she confirms, “Norwegian people have taken care of me and given me hope. The system has not.”
Despite very different backgrounds, Maria Amelie shares similar fears with another woman in Norway, an Ethiopian who calls herself ‘Kenna.’ Kenna is Oromo, an ethnic group that makes up almost half of the Ethiopian population. In spite of their numbers, the Oromo are still subject to severe ethnic persecution.
After facing personal violence and torture, Kenna was only 18 when she came to Norway. While no one is forcibly returned to Ethiopia’s totalitarian regime, many Ethiopian women in Norway remain ‘paperless’. Kenna’s father was killed in Ethiopia.
“Words cannot describe how painful it is,” she says faintly.
The murder of Kenna’s father was connected to her father’s involvement in politics. During the crisis, Kenna’s brothers escaped as Kenna and her mother were tortured in prison for refusing to reveal their relatives’ hiding place.
Kenna’s uncle helped her flee to Norway. Almost 12 years later, Kenna speaks Norwegian but is illegally employed. Despite the number of years she has been in the country she is still seen as ‘illegal’ in Norway, with little option given to her to join fully in Norwegian society.
Today Kenna lives with an ongoing ‘eternal fear’ of being deported to a country that activates traumatic memories. Although she has ‘absolutely no rights’ in Norway, she feels connected to the country where she has now spent most of her adult life.
“Unfortunately the government fails to listen to those who have the experiences,” explains Kenna. “They need to understand; people do not live illegally somewhere for 10 to 15 years for no reason. I also think they should recognize the specifics in Ethiopians’ situations.”
Regularizations in Europe
“The majority of European countries use or have used some sort of regularization measure, mostly for humanitarian reasons but also to regulate the labor market,” said Albert Kraler, Research Officer at the International Center for Migration Policy Development.
Regularizations are government procedures that grant illegally residing non-nationals a legal status.
In a 2009 report on regularizations in Europe, Kraler estimates that a minimum of 3.5 million ‘paperless’ people have gained legal status in EU between 1996 and 2008.
In 2006, Norway’s neighboring country, Sweden, provided legal status for 17,000 asylum seekers who had claims that were initially rejected. About 578,375 irregular migrants living in Spain were also granted legal status in 2005.
When challenged to give an opinion on Norwegian policies, Adam Kraler outlines, “Regularization is a flexible tool that can take both the interest of the state and the interest of the individual into consideration.”
“After 5 years in a country it is clear that a person will not leave immediately,” continued Kraler. “(It’s) Then this person needs some security and rights.”
“And if a child has been brought up in a country, is it for the best of the child to be forcibly removed?”
No One is Illegal Campaign
In 2008, data research group, Statistics Norway (SSB) estimated that 18,136 out of Norway’s almost five million inhabitants are undocumented immigrants. Although the exact number is not available, many undocumented immigrants are women. 1,344 of undocumented immigrants in 2008 were children.
The Norway based, ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign, launched by a wide partnership of human rights groups inside the country, is driving actions now to help undocumented immigrant women and their children find asylum.
According to ‘No One Is Illegal’ some undocumented immigrants have lived as long as 17 years in Norway without access to basic rights, as they are often subjected to suffering and exploitation.
The campaign aims to establish a legal limit on the number of years a person can be classified as ‘illegal’ in Norway. Along with this, the campaign is working to help secure an automatic permit allowance for children and their families who have lived in Norway for a minimum of four years. Director KariHelene Partapuoli, of The Norwegian Center against Racism and Discrimination, believes this legislation is achievable.
“Norway does not like to be criticized for violating human rights,” shares Partapuoli, referring to the obligations following the country’s commitment to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We face resistance to our objective, but due to support from individual politicians we believe policy changes can be made.”
Threatened by Indifference
Representative for the Liberal Party, Helge Solum Larsen, claimed that Norwegian policies can be changed through advocacy. “The parties supporting change will need to continue our internal work and see how far we can go to convince other parties,” said Larsen. “Politicians need to hear from the people. Every voice is needed; indifference is what kills our society’s core values.”
“We have not received any signals from the ministry (of Norway) that they (will) consider regularizations,” UDI – Norwegian Directorate of Immigration Deputy Director General, Frode Forfang, said recently.
“A society is often judged by how it treats its most fragile,” said the Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation in a recent November 2010 release. “People living in Norway without rights year after year are undeniably part of this group.”
“Thus, it is pleasing that the Norwegian Parliament finally act? on the case of the ‘paperless,’” continued the Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation release in its plea for fair treatment for all asylum seekers in Norway.
On November 30, Norway’s Parliament hosted its first open hearing on the issue of ‘paperless’ people in the country. What will come from this hearing will tell the world whether indifference can be replaced with action.
For More Information on this Topic:
“Irregular Migration and Human Rights: Theoretical, European and International Perspectives,” Edited by Barbara Bogusz, Ryszard Cholewinski, Adam Cygan and Erika Szyszczak, 2004.
Maria Amelie’s blog (in Norwegian)
“Irregular Migration,” The International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).
"Regularizing Immigrants in Spain: A New Approach,” Migration Information Source, 2005.
The MiRA Centre – Oslo, Norway (in Norwegian and English)
WNN correspondent in Oslo, Norway, Synne Hall Arnøy, is a human rights journalist focusing on social justice issues. She also works as a graduate teacher of social science and languages with a degree in Development Studies from Oslo University College.