One of the characteristics of all welfare systems is that they tend to attract people who learn to game the rules. When so much money-for-nothing is at stake, it’s inevitable that within the pool of available clients there will develop a sub-class of people who specialize in working the system.
Now it’s been revealed that the government of Norway, inadvertently or not, has decided to give would-be asylum-gamers a helping hand by publishing the criteria used to decide whether or not asylum will be granted.
The Observer has translated a couple of articles for Gates of Vienna. First, from Aftenposten:
Controversial UDI documents are available on the internet- - - - - - - - -
Despite several warnings from staff members, the UDI (Norwegian Immigration Department) has decided to publish information on the internet, which some people have been described as a ‘a step by step guide’ for obtaining political asylum in Norway. The director of the UDI, Frode Forfang, admits that there has been an internal discussion within the organization as to whether this was a wise decision or not.
In the aftermath of the UDI scandal and the treatment of Iraqi asylum seekers two years ago, the management of the UDI decided to introduce measures to bring more transparency to the organization.
The most controversial proposal was to make public the documents outlining the procedures used by the Asylum Department of the UDI. The contents of these documents are described by the UDI on their own web pages as:
“Documents that contain information about the UDI’s decision making processes on a range of selected issues. The documents explain how decisions are reached, but they also contain information on internal procedures within the UDI.”
Aftenposten have been made aware that several members of the staff, and some sub-departments within the UDI were highly critical to the publishing of these documents. These documents are used by UDI caseworkers to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for granting political asylum or not.
Previously these documents have only been available to the caseworkers in the UDI, UNE, the Service Department for Foreign Applicants and the International Branch of the Norwegian Police. The documents have up until now been considered to be so sensitive that caseworkers assigned to Iraqi asylum cases were not able to access documents which outlined the official policies regarding asylum seekers from Somalia.
There was an unwritten law within the Asylum Department that the information in these documents never was to be shared with outsiders. The reason for this secrecy was to prevent asylum seekers from changing their stories to meet the UDI’s criteria. Despite massive opposition, the management of the UDI decided to make the documents public in April, earlier this year.
Director of the UDI, Frode Forfang, confirms that there has been an ongoing discussion in the organization regarding this decision, and that there have been opposing views on the issue.
“There was a high degree of uncertainty initially. We had an internal discussion as to how we were going to publish the documents containing the procedures regarding asylum applications. Some members argued that publishing this information on the internet would be viewed as a step by step guide to get political asylum,” says Forfang.
The UDI management has tried to phrase these documents in such a way that it would prevent people from viewing it as a guide book on how to seek political asylum in Norway.
“Criteria used to determine whether an applicant is credible or not will not be made available. I feel that we have reached a decision that has broad support within the organization. Not everyone agrees, but the majority do,” Forfang says.
Do the documents reveal which considerations are taken into account when granting political asylum?
“Our experience is that the asylum seekers are very well-informed about which criteria we use. It would be strange if we could reveal certain criteria in the media and in answering asylum application, but not publicize this information online. We feel it’s important that the decision-makers and everyone that has an interest in the Norwegian policies regarding this matter know exactly what is required to seek political asylum in Norway. The UDI have come up with a strategy where transparency is very important. Making public the criteria behind our decision making is part of this strategy.
“Our main concern in a lot of cases is to establish whether an asylum seeker is a member of a political organization, or whether he’s from a certain region of a country. How we go about in determining this will not be revealed. We are not going to disclose how we verify this type of information,” Forfang says.
Here’s another article from Aftenposten:
Step by step guide to obtaining political asylum in Norway
The documents concerning the procedures published by the UDI contain a detailed description of what kind of political memberships, countries/regions of origin, and family status are most likely to lead to a successful asylum application in Norway.
Below are some examples outlining the criteria set out by the UDI for some of the countries that Norway receives asylum seekers from.
For single women, a return to societies with a patriarchal structure can be problematic. If it can be established that the applicant is a single woman without sufficient resources or family network in her native country, a resident visa can be issued on humanitarian grounds.
Exposed groups are women with gender related-problems and individuals who have married without their family’s consent. Individuals that are involved in conflicts with persons that hold a high status in their local communities, or relatives of such individuals, could also be exposed to danger.
This also applies to people who are accused of not living in accordance with Islamic values and traditions. These include individuals who don’t dress according to the Islamic dress code, women who drive cars or have a job, men who don’t shave, people who sell alcohol, western movies, and music.
There may be grounds for granting political asylum to applicants who have converted to other religions. If it can be ascertained that the conversion is real and that the conversion is a result of activities stemming from the applicant’s native country, the possibility of granting political asylum should be considered.
Homosexuality is forbidden according to the criminal laws of Afghanistan. Members of this group are exposed to persecution and this could constitute grounds for political asylum.
The biggest group of asylum-seekers who come from Afghanistan are married women who are accompanied by their children, and who claims that their husbands have disappeared or are presumed dead. They also claim that they have no family network in Afghanistan, or that they are involved in a conflict with this network. These women could be in peril and could be exposed to violence if they are sent back.
Female applicants who have been victims of gender-related persecution (rape, arranged marriages, abuse), even in those cases were there is no risk of future abuse, a resident permit could be granted on humanitarian grounds.
There’s an English-language article on the asylum topic, also in Aftenposten:
Townships told to welcome more refugees
Norwegian townships will need to accommodate twice the number of refugees that they’re already taking in, as a steady stream of persons seeking asylum turns into a flood. The state, meanwhile, has started publicizing what’s required to actually receive asylum in the country.
UDI concluded that publication of its notations help clarify what’s required for asylum. Attorneys representing asylum seekers welcome the new information, after complaining that asylum rules are “horribly complicated.”
Refugee numbers doubling
Norway is bracing for a new wave of asylum seekers. After accepting 6,500 refugees last year, around 15,000 are expected this year. That compares to 25,000 expected by Sweden, but just 2,000 expected by Denmark and 1,500 expected by Finland.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that state officials are in the process of contacting local governments around the country, telling them to prepare to house an additional 8,200 new asylum seekers next year. That’s the largest amount since 1994.
Several townships have turned away new refugees, arguing that they don’t have the housing or funds to accommodate them. The Norwegian Red Cross doesn’t think townships should be allowed to turn away more refugees, and that refugee accommodation should be mandatory throughout the country.
Most of the new asylum-seekers in both Sweden and Norway are coming from war-torn Iraq, followed by refugees from Afghanistan and Somalia.