Norway: My Irresponsible Refuge?

The 1951 Geneva Convention defines a ‘refugee’ as a person with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” As I read this for my Refugee and Asylum Law class, I can’t help but link this convention to my personal experience, and the current refugee crisis in Syria.

After escaping the Taliban war in Afghanistan and moving to Peshawar, my family received political asylum from Norway in September 2000. I found a new home during the peak of the Afghan refugee crisis, where, by that time, the number of Afghan refugees and internally displaced people had hit one million in June 2000. While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided protection and assistance, Norway helped me restart my life through local integration and by providing me opportunities to get an education in a safe environment.

Iraq/Reuters

As a leading country on gender equality and with a well-developed healthcare system, Norway is well placed to receive refugees, specifically those in need of medical and psychological treatment. According to the WHO, refugee children often suffer from diarrheal and respiratory illness, and lack key immunizations. Similarly, refugee women are often in need of greater reproductive health services, and rely on skilled healthcare providers. Furthermore, there is also an increased need for mental health services as a direct effect of violence and forced migration.

Fifteen years after my feet touched Norwegian soil, however, the Government is about to make it much tougher for many foreign nationals to immigrate to Norway. The timing for the imposition of these restrictions couldn’t be worse. Thus far, 11 Million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes as the war in Syria devolves into one of the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophes. The most vulnerable refugees are women, children, and the sick and wounded. In this context, there are a wide range of issues, including whether to allow the children of rejected refugees to remain in Norway (the so-called asylbarn issue), that need to be addressed.

According to the Refugee Convention, the world community (including Norway) has an obligation to share the responsibility and accept more Syrian refugees. The Norwegian government rejected 123 Syrian refugees from Turkey in 2014 with medical needs for which UNHCR specifically requested Norway’s assistance. The UNHCR and Syria’s neighboring countries, including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, house 97 percent of the Syrian refugees. For these countries, the mass exodus has become a major burden, and satisfactory solutions can only be achieved through international solidarity.

The United Nations emphasizes the importance of the need for state-cooperation, as burden-sharing is a critical instrument in safeguarding the rights of refugees. Burden-sharing is based on the premise that collective action might lead to better and more enduring resolutions of crises than unilateral measures by individual nation states.

Mohammad Hannon/AP

Norway can make a difference in the lives of these refugees by increasing the quota of refugees from Syria to at least 5000 in 2015, and, as a leading maritime nation, by sending more ships to help tackle the thousands of boat refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Norway’s new Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre has announced his support for more Syrian refugees during his first opening speech at the party’s annual national meeting in Oslo, but not everyone is pleased with his proposal. The misleadingly named “Progress” Party, which is currently in government along with the Conservatives, called Støre’s proposal unrealistic” and “irresponsible.”

Dear “Progress” Party, what is unrealistic is the fact that the Syrian refugees in Lebanon account for more than one-third of the population (the highest per capita concentration in the world). What is irresponsible is that Norway continues to, at best, forget and, at worst, ignore its international obligations by failing to meet its responsibilities under key human rights instruments the country is signatory to. Norway needs to meet its international obligations and welcome 5000 Syrian refugees this year, and another 5000 Syrian refugees next year.

I am grateful for the opportunities Norway has provided me, and I am also confident that the country has the ability to create the same opportunities for more Syrians. Refugees are, after all, people with a well-founded fear. We must, thus, act now because we have no time to lose.

Samina Ansari

Samina Ansari

Editor, Middle East at InPRA
Afghan-Norwegian Samina Ansari is an Intern at NATO Secretary General’s Representative for Women, Peace and Security Office. She has background in Cyber Security law, Globalization law and International-Public Management from University of Oslo, Maastricht and SciencesPo.
Samina Ansari