We must avoid treating people differently

ON THE EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States

Photo: Javad Parsa / NTB
Marte Mjøs Persen (Labor Party) has served as Norway’s minister of labor and social inclusion since 2022 and was minister of petroleum and energy from 2021 to 2022. She served as the mayor of Bergen from 2015 to 2021, when she was elected to the Storting.

Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of people have had their lives changed overnight. For the third time in recent times, Europe is in a mass migration situation, and there was never any doubt that Norway would contribute. That we have done.

The authorities have been clear about their support from Day One and, under extraordinary circumstance, have taken measures to be able to receive a large number of people in a short time. The municipalities have set themselves up to settle far more refugees than they had planned for this year, and people all over the country have taken in collections, made donations, and signed up as volunteers.

Stretch out a hand

In an article in NRK Ytring, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross Bernt Apeland has warned that refugees are treated differently in Norway.

He points out that refugees from countries other than Ukraine face a challenging everyday life with increasing uncertainty when they experience that Ukrainian refugees are sent to the front of the line. That shouldn’t be the case.

We have gained a lot of experience through having taken in a large number of refugees in a short period of time.

Apeland points out that refugees from Ukraine get free tickets to movie theaters and concerts, activities, and discounted bus tickets from various sources. He writes that “no one wants to deprive anyone of a free ticket or other gifts. We must, however, expand what we are offering, so that even more people can benefit from the solidarity that Norwegians are now showing Ukrainians.” I agree with that.

I want to encourage private individuals, businesses, and organizations to extend a helping hand, regardless of whether those in need come from Ukraine, Eritrea, or Syria.

Collective protection

So far this year, over 30,000 asylum seekers have come to Norway, most of them from Ukraine. The situation in Ukraine and surrounding areas is unpredictable, and there is great uncertainty about how many refugees will arrive in the future.

In the mass migration situation that Europe now finds itself in, it is necessary to take measures to increase the efficiency of the early settlement phase. Temporary collective protection for all those who have had to flee Ukraine is one of these measures.

This protection is valid for one year at a time, because the need is assumed to be temporary. How the war develops will determine whether this temporary protection is extended.

So far this year, 20,000 refugees are living in a single municipality. This is a historic number, and the municipalities have undergone a formidable effort.

Under normal circumstance, refugees and asylum-seekers can apply for permanent residence, and the placement process is comprehensive and takes longer to implement and makes for a more reliable settlement policy.

For refugees with collective protection, the placement procedure is simpler in order to settle them in more quickly, so that the capacity for taking them in is not exceeded and that people can get started with a normal everyday life as soon as possible.

Shorter waiting time

The average waiting time from a decision on a residency permit application to actual settlement for all is now 1.8 months for all refugees. This is a sharp decrease that benefits all those who are to be settled.

As a result, with this temporary collective protection, certain rights are also weakened. For example, people who have fled Ukraine do not have the same educational opportunities as other refugees.

To remedy this situation and to make it possible for voluntary organizations to scale up and focus their work, extra subsidies were given to voluntary organizations, along with other provisions. The Red Cross also received part of this grant. The grant was earmarked to ensure that benefits quickly reach as many refugees as possible.

We have gained a lot of experience by having received a large number of refugees in a short period of time. It gives us the opportunity to learn and assess whether some of the adaptations made this time can and should be made more long-term.

I want the authorities, municipalities, and volunteers to figure that out together.

This article originally appeared in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.