Norway proposed on Tuesday (29 December) to tighten the country’s asylum rules, including turning back asylum seekers without visas arriving from the passport-free Schengen zone, especially from Sweden.
The draft law, still to be adopted by the parliament, is meant to be „one of Europe’s toughest“ immigration rules, according to the right leaning government.
The measures, aimed at making Norway less attractive for refugees and migrants, include making it more difficult for refugees to bring family members to Norway, by only allowing family reunifications after the applicant has acquired four years of work or education in the country.
The proposed measures would also make it more difficult to claim welfare benefits, which will be based on a voucher system rather than cash allowances, to avoid people sending money back home, and to raise the requirements for permanent residence permits.
It would also start turning back people who would like to enter Norway from another country of the passport-free Schengen zone without a visa, and migrants who arrived on transit visas via Russia would also not be granted asylum.
Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a party to the Schengen area, which has no passport or border controls.
Most of the at least 30,000 people seeking asylum in Norway this year have crossed the border from Sweden.
In recent weeks, the country has seen fewer arrivals, partly because of the reintroduction of border controls in neighbouring Sweden and the cold winter weather.
The proposed measures have come under fire from rights groups, saying that it only creates a bottleneck situation in Greece and Italy, where most people enter Europe and then move on to the country where they actually seek asylum.
„It is very serious that politicians are using punitive measures that would make life more difficult for a number of asylum-seekers who are entitled to protection,“ Andreas Furuseth, of the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, was quoted by AP news agency.
However, Norway’s new immigration minister Sylvi Listhaug of the right-wing Progress Party, the junior coalition partner, argues that the new law will improve the lives of legal immigrants.
She told the NTB news agency the tough rules were „necessary so that we can welcome those who come here, settle them in and integrate them.“
Listhaug also said that tightening the country’s asylum rules was necessary to avoid “violent consequences” for the welfare system, AP reported.
Refugees are entitled to many of the same welfare benefits as Norwegians in the Nordic country, whose offshore oil and gas resources have made it one of the world’s richest on a per-capita basis.
This year more than 30,000 people sought international protection in Norway, a country of 5 million inhabitants.
Listhaug said 10,000 to 100,000 people were expected to apply for asylum in Norway in 2016. “If we are anywhere near the latter number it could have violent consequences for our welfare society,” the minister was quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB.
Earlier this month, Norway created a special ministry dedicated to migration issues. At the time, prime minister Erna Solberg said the numbers of immigrants had put “too much pressure” on justice minister Anders Anundsen.
According to AP, before her appointment as immigration minister on December 16, Listhaug, then the agriculture minister, had criticised what she called a „tyranny of kindness that is blowing over Norwegian society like a nightmare“.
Currently, Norway grants asylum on a wider basis than those considered refugees under UN standards.