Myth: “There are 30 000 people irregularly in Norway, and many of them are criminals.”

From UDI Annual Report 2011:

It is easy to get the impression that Norway, especially Oslo, is flooded with criminals that the authorities don’t know the identity of. But what are the facts about so-called irregular immigrants?

30 000 – where does this figure come from?

We do not know exactly how many people are in Norway illegally. Statistics Norway has estimated that there were about 18 000 illegal immigrants in 2006, and that the true figure was probably between 10 000 and 32 000. So 30 000 is possible, but the figure is quite unlikely to be so high. Two out of three were probably former asylum seekers.

In 2012, the UDI will receive the results of new calculations for the period 2007–2010.

“Irregulars”, what do we mean by this?

The term “irregulars” is not an official concept with clearly defined content, but when used by the media, two types of document are often confused: : identity documents and residence permits.

“We do not know who the asylum seekers are, hardly anyone presents travel documents when seeking asylum.”

There are many reasons why few of them present their identity documents.
It is true that only 9 per cent present travel documents when seeking asylum. There are several reasons for this

- Many of them have never held passports, e.g. people from Somalia.
- Many people are told by smugglers and helpers to throw away or hide their passports.
- They have often had bad experiences with the police and other authorities and are very reserved early on in the asylum process.

However, a much greater number present their ID documents or substantiate their identities in some other way while their case is being processed.

“Lots of people disappear from the reception centres, and we have no idea where they are.”

That is true, but we do know where many of them are.
At the end of the year, 4 900 people obliged to leave Norway were living in reception centres. 1 200 of these were children.

In 2011, almost 400 people left the reception centres every month without providing a new address. On average, 180 of them soon returned to the reception centres or another known address, or they were settled in a local community by the authorities. Many people also left Norway without informing the authorities.

“People without official residence have no rights and live in unworthy conditions.”

Some people are in a difficult situation, but they do have rights. It is very true that many people have put their lives on hold, but those without official residence status are obliged to leave the country. We therefore wish to give these people the possibility of a dignified return. While they remain here, they have some rights:

- the option of staying at asylum centres
- the right to immediate health assistance and help which cannot wait, including necessary health assistance before and after birth
- the right to basic education (children)

“Nobody is doing anything to make them leave the country.”

As many as possible should return voluntarily.
People who are obliged to leave the country must return to their countries of origin quickly, ideally voluntarily, but they will be returned by force if necessary. The UDI is responsible for voluntary return, while the police are responsible for forced return. The number of people returning has increased in recent years. The UDI has worked intensively on providing information and encouraging people to return voluntarily by means of various return programmes. Those who return must be able to cope when they arrive, and education is an important aspect in the work with returns. The police give priority to deporting persons convicted of crimes.

We have return agreements with a number of important countries, but some returns are still difficult due to doubt about the identities of those concerned or potential risks to the in-flight safety.

To what extent are they criminals?

1 400 people were expelled for criminal offences in 2011.

Of these, 25 per cent were former asylum seekers. In 2011, Statistics Norway published a report showing that certain nationalities predominate in the crime statistics. Many asylum seekers have come from some of these nations. But asylum seekers also tend to be young men, who are generally more likely to commit crimes than the average population. If we adjust the figures to take into account this demographic imbalance, the overrepresentation is reduced.

In 2011, there were 970 arrests of a total of 530 people in the public drug scenes in Oslo. Most of them were foreigners without residence permits, and they were generally people who had either not sought asylum or who had received final rejections. Some of these disappear into illegal residence in Norway. The UDI prioritised the processing of asylum applications for 90 of the people arrested.

Collective Stupidity

I was never aware of the term ‘collective stupidity’ until I came to Norway.  It is when no one person, but a group or even a whole crowd, act in a ‘stupid’ way.

I was parked in a 15 minute zone to drop off my kids at childcare.  When I returned to my car I could not believe what I saw.  A bus had decided to park behind me.  I tapped on the bus doors.  The guy opened them and immediately said that he couldn’t back up because of the bus behind him…

…and he couldn’t drive forward because of the bus in front of him:

I told him that he needed to move (and therefore the other busses too) because I was parked in a 15 minute zone and I had to get to work in 5 minutes.  (I had a really important interview to do with a newspaper reporter to advertise a Guinness World Record I’m trying to help Alta achieve.)

The bus driver arrogantly said ‘no’.  I was furious.   The other bus drivers knew it too as they watched me take pictures of their number plates while they sat safely behind their steering wheels.

Maybe the bus drivers were incompetent and ignorant, or maybe they were collectively conniving?  But alas, I’ve determined that it was ‘collective stupidity’ on the bus driver’s part.  Why?  Every bus driver didn’t think of the consequences of their ‘stupid’ actions.  The first bus driver parked behind the cars so no one could get out.  Then so did the second, third, forth and fifth.  The attitude was ‘Well, if the first bus driver doesn’t care or have a conscience, why should I?’

What is more disheartening is that they did not want to help a person get out of the situation they had created.   Instead they jumped out of their busses for a smoke as a demonstration of their lack of care and unwillingness to help me.  So I took pictures of them to make an official complaint to the bus company.

The only way out of the car lot for me was to either wait for the busses to leave, which was not going to happen anytime soon, or to drive over onto the footpath and along the path til I hit road again.  So the bus drivers watched me check out the path and where I could exit onto the road.  I got back in my car and drove up on the pavement, driving very slowly (behind a person) and made it safely to the road.

Do I really want to become a citizen of Norway when Norwegians care so little for each other?

Who Applied for Asylum in Norway in 2011?

From the UDI 2011 Annual Report:

In 2011, 9 100 people applied for protection (asylum) in Norway. That was 10 per cent fewer than in 2010 and almost 50 per cent fewer than in 2009.

Figure: Asylum seekers to Norway, 1997-2011

Seven countries top the statistics
Applicants for protection came from 115 different countries, but more than six out of ten came from one of the top seven countries: Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Ethiopia.

Somalia: 2 200 applicants
Many were unaccompanied adults, and there were few families with children.
Almost all of them said they came from South Somalia and Mogadishu.
Most of them said they were being persecuted by Al Shabaab, while some fled as a result of the security situation in Mogadishu.

Eritrea: 1 300 applicants
Many were unaccompanied adults, most of them men.
The majority were seeking protection from the authorities in their home country because they had deserted from the army or evaded national service.

Afghanistan: 980 applicants
Many were unaccompanied minor boys, but there were also some families with children. Relatively few were unaccompanied adults.
They mainly came from central and eastern parts of the country. Some of them also stated that they were born and grew up in Iran without ever having been in Afghanistan.
Many stated that they feared the Taliban, and some said they had converted to Christianity. Quite a few of them told of traumas or mental health problems.

Russia: 370 applicants
There were many families with children.
The majority were Chechens, while some were Ingush or Russians. Both the Chechens and Ingush stated that they feared the tense security situation and that they were subject to political persecution.
The Russians stated that they were fleeing discrimination and harassment from criminals or the Russian Mafia, or from prostitution and generally poor living conditions.

Iraq: 360 applicants
There were many families, some of them with children.
Most of the applicants were Arabs or Kurds, and most of them came from the central and northern parts of the country.
Asylum seekers from the central parts of Iraq and the border zone stated that they were being persecuted because they were in contact with and worked with the Americans or the new regime. Former members of the Ba’ath party and their family members stated that they feared reprisals. Clan conflicts, revenge killings and honour killings were typical reasons for seeking asylum given by people from the Kurdish autonomous region in Northern Iraq.

Iran: 360 applicants
Many were unaccompanied men, but there were also some families with children.
A large proportion of applicants came from the Kurdish regions. The rest came mainly from Tehran, while a few came from other large towns or the province of Azerbaijan.
Many stated that they were seeking protection because they had taken part in the protests following the presidential election in June 2009. This applied to Persians, Kurds and Azeris. Others specified extramarital affairs, religious conversion, blogging, political activity online or student and women’s activism. Some women also gave domestic abuse and fear of forced marriage or honour killings as grounds. A few applicants gave homosexuality as their reason for fleeing.

Ethiopia: 290 applicants
Many were unaccompanied men, but there were also some unaccompanied women. Relatively speaking, there were many women from Ethiopia.
Most of them stated that they were fleeing because they were being persecuted by the authorities due to political activity, and some of the women also told of sexual assaults committed by officials.

The situation in Europe
Several countries in Europe experienced an increase in the number of asylum seekers in 2011. They included France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Like Norway, Sweden received fewer applications in 2011 than in 2010.

How many asylum seekers will arrive in 2012?
The asylum field is unpredictable and it is difficult to foresee how many asylum seekers will come to Norway in the time ahead. Developments would seem to indicate that Europe will continue to see high numbers of asylum seekers. There is still great uncertainty as regards developments in certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East, conditions in the Horn of Africa are difficult, and the situation is still uncertain in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Economic conditions in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain may make it more attractive than before to come to a country like Norway with a more stable economy. However, Norwegian asylum practice is in line with or stricter than the practice in our neighbouring countries.

At the same time, we have increased our efforts in relation to forced deportation. This could help to make Norway appear less attractive than it was.

Did the Arab Spring Come to Norway?

From the UDI annual report for 2011:

The year 2011 was dominated by dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East. This region is characterised by extensive internal migration and many of the countries are also transit countries for people who want to travel on to Europe. How did the events affect the migration situation in the region and migration to Europe and Norway?

Egypt: little emigration after the change of regime
There has traditionally been a high level of emigration from Egypt, but primarily to other Arab countries. Some highly qualified Egyptians, many of them Christians, have been an exception to this rule. They have emigrated to English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Very few Egyptians have emigrated to Europe without first obtaining a residence permit, and this is still the case after the uprising.

Tunisia: large, but short-lived emigration across the Mediterranean
People from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have long emigrated to Europe in large numbers. Some have come via regulated channels, while others have travelled illegally by boat across the Mediterranean or to the Canary Islands. Illegal crossings increased strongly following the uprising in Tunisia. In February 2011, a large number of people started crossing to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean halfway between Malta and the coast of Tunisia. In the space of just a few months, around 20 000 people travelled from the North African countries to Lampedusa.

Most of them were young men looking for work. Many of them continued on to France. However, the French authorities have registered few of the Tunisian immigrants in their systems. The Italian authorities, on the other hand, received 3 200 applications for asylum from Tunisians during the first nine months of 2011. Some of them also continued on to Switzerland, where 1 700 Tunisian asylum seekers were registered during the same period.

The extensive emigration from Tunisia was due in part to the authorities’ failure, for a period, to maintain the same control of irregular sailings to Lampedusa and Malta that they had exercised prior to the political turbulence. This created an opening for people to travel illegally to Europe. However, the European countries were quick to demand that the Tunisian authorities resume cooperation with Frontex, the European border management agency, which it did. The flow of refugees to Lampedusa was greatly reduced over the summer. Eighty Tunisian asylum seekers arrived in Norway in 2011. That is almost twice as many as in 2010, but a low figure compared with other countries in Europe.

Libya: foreign migrants caught up in conflict
Unlike the rest of North Africa, Libya has long been a country with many migrant workers from all over the world. It has also been an important transit country for people from Sub-Saharan Africa who want to come to Europe. There are no exact figures for migrants in Libya. The IOM has put the figure at 650 000, but the actual figure may be as high as between 2 and 2.5 million. Gaddafi also used migrants who wished to travel to Europe as leverage in order to secure agreements with European countries, particularly Italy.

When the conflict escalated in spring 2011, many of these migrants found themselves in a very difficult situation. In particular, people from further south in Africa were victims of spontaneous, unprovoked violence due to widespread racism in Libya, and because it was suspected that they were mercenaries for Gaddafi. Many of them crossed the border to the refugee camp run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the town of Choucha in Tunisia.

With the exception of the period from 2002 to 2004, when a number of young men came here without needing protection, few Libyans have applied for asylum in Norway. The number of applicants increased to 140 in 2011, but this is still a low figure compared with other countries in Europe. Traditionally, Libyan nationals seeking political asylum in Europe under the Gaddafi regime did so in the United Kingdom. That was also the case in 2011.

Syria: many refugees to Europe both before and after the uprising
Syrian citizens have been fleeing from the Bashar al-Assad regime for a long time, but more have fled since the uprising started in spring 2011. The majority of asylum seekers from Syria went to Germany, as was also the case prior to the uprising. Two hundred asylum seekers came to Norway from Syria in 2011. In April, Norway stopped returning people to Syria, and we also stopped making decisions that would oblige applicants to return to Syria.

How have the transit routes been affected?
Today’s migration routes are based on travel routes that have existed for several thousand years. The most common routes to Europe are in the west, via Morocco and the Western Sahara to the southern coast of Spain or the Canary Islands, the central route via Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, and the eastern route via the Middle East and the east coast of the Mediterranean across into Turkey. There is widespread internal migration in the Middle East and it is relatively easy to travel within the region, including into Turkey.

The western route and the route from Libya across to Italy used to be the most widely used route. This has changed over the last three years. While many people crossed the Mediterranean to Italy during the unrest in North Africa, more people are now choosing the eastern route from the Horn of Africa via the Middle East and Turkey. According to reports from UNHCR, around 85 000 people travelled from the Horn of Africa across to Yemen in autumn 2011. Frontex has also reported increasing pressure on the border between Turkey and Greece. People travelling by this route have to pass through very turbulent parts of the Middle East, so it is far from hazard-free.

No mass immigration to Norway
When the number of people arriving in Lampedusa increased strongly in the spring, there was speculation that the events in North Africa would lead to a big increase in the number of asylum seekers coming to Norway from North Africa, and the Horn of Africa via North Africa. This did not happen, however. Asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa accounted for almost half of all asylum seekers in Norway in 2011. The majority stated that they travelled via the eastern route and not via North Africa.

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