Yemeni family struggles to stay in Norway

Thousands of rejected asylum seekers have been deported, including hundreds of children, but many are refusing to go.

    Yemeni family struggles to stay in Norway
    People gather outside an asylum centre in Valer, Norway [Reuters]

    Stavanger, Norway - Twenty-nine-year-old Malk Sultan al-Jabiri, a policeman in his native Yemen, fled his country in 2007 during a rebellion by the Houthis, a Shia rebel group.

    He made it to Norway and applied for asylum, and has continued to live there for the past eight years. For the first four years, he had a good life in Sandnes, a city in southwestern Norway. Shortly after his arrival, he met a Yemeni woman whom he married. He found a good job and rented an apartment for him and his family.

    But in 2011, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) rejected his asylum application.

    Jabiri's work permit was revoked, he had to leave his apartment and return to a centre for asylum seekers in Sandnes, and now lives with the knowledge that the police might come at any time and deport him to Yemen along with his children, who were both born in Norway.

    His wife returned to Yemen a few months ago after her application was also denied. Jabiri said his wife was "going mental" in Norway, having little social interaction and being unable to work.

    "I'm trying to avoid making my kids realise what is happening," Jabiri told Al Jazeera. "I try to make them feel like they are not living in a reception centre. I take them out as much as I can, to the park, to sport trainings, so that they can feel like normal Norwegian kids."

    Although he knows his decision to stay in Norway makes his presence there illegal, he also knows that it is difficult for the police to deport migrants.

    Mette Grude heads the Sandnes reception centre, which is run by contractor Hero Norge. She said a Yemeni family was recently deported - but that upon their arrival, the Yemeni police forbade them from entering and sent them back to Norway.

    A final 'no'

    There are currently 2,519 adults and 559 children living in asylum centres in Norway [Silvia Giannelli/Al Jazeera] 

    Jabiri and his family are far from being an isolated case. According to government data, as of February 28 there were 2,519 adults and 559 children living in reception centres in Norway whose asylum applications had been rejected for a final time. National immigration police report having deported 7,259 people last year, of whom 648 were minors.

    Arguing that children are not responsible for their parents' choice to come to Norway, various non-governmental organisations, civil society and church groups have called on Norwegian immigration authorities to change their stance.

    "So far, they have been very restrictive in giving residence permits to families because the government is afraid that this might lead to many more staying in Norway or trying to get the permit," Jon Ole Martinsen, senior advisor at the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), told Al Jazeera.

    In December, the Norwegian government adopted a set of new rules that, in NOAS' opinion, represents a clear improvement.

    "What changes is that children's interests will have priority over migration concerns in the decision," explained Martinsen.

    The changes will only affect the so-called long-staying children who constitute about half the total number of children whose asylum requests have been rejected, according to NOAS.

    "Those are children that have been living in Norway for at least four or five years. They are integrated in the society, they speak Norwegian, they are part of the local communities, they go to school, they participate in football teams, dancing classes said Martinsen.

    Jabiri's daughter, who turns six this year, may be classified as one of these "long-staying children". Her father said he hopes she will be allowed to stay in Norway because of the new regulations - which would also enable him, as the child's guardian, to stay as well.

    Complicated diplomacy

    According to UDI, the waiting time for the first decision on an asylum request should take between three and six months, but asylum seekers are entitled to file an appeal if their requests are rejected. If the appeal is also rejected, the person must leave Norway.

    "The ones residing illegally in Norway are offered the opportunity to leave the country with assistance from International Organisation for Migration," explained Andreas Bondevik, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

    "They are offered various forms of support, including a free ticket, financial allowance and depending on nationality, also a reintegration package. If they refuse to accept this offer of assisted voluntary return, they will face the possibility of deportation by the police."

    But deportation is often not an easy process, said Rajab Amis, information officer for Hero Norge, which runs 30 of Norway's 110 asylum reception centres.

    "It depends on which country one comes from, and what kind of agreement Norway has with this country."

    Currently, UDI statistics show that more than 20 percent of those living in Norwegian asylum reception centres have already had their applications rejected.

    They are still in Norway because of complicated diplomatic situations between Norway and the asylum seekers' countries of origin.

    "There must be communication between the authorities of the countries. The police cannot simply take them and put them on a plane. Some countries cooperate very well, some others don't," said Grude.

    "For example, although Norway has a formal agreement with Ethiopia to return people who want to go back, it is difficult for the police to deport Ethiopians by force - and by difficult I mean almost impossible, because it never happens. We have people who have been here for 10, 12, even 15 years with a final negative answer."

    Another complicating factor is the difficulty of verifying the identities of asylum seekers eligible for deportation. Many lack documents or refuse to cooperate with the deportation process.

    Rajab Amis said the deportation of rejected asylum seekers is complicated [Silvia Giannelli/Al Jazeera]

    'I'm lucky I didn't go crazy'

    Meanwhile, they carry on with their lives inside the asylum reception centre, which they are allowed to leave as they wish.

    "But they can't work, they can't attend the language and integration programme - they have no rights," said Amis. "They only get little money to survive and emergency health care."

    Those who receive a "final negative answer" to their asylum application receive 1,800 krone ($222) per month.

    Asked whether it is easy to find black-market jobs, the residents did not hesitate to answer that such work is "everywhere".

    Jabiri said if he were to go back in time, he would not come to Norway.

    "I see other families who applied in Sweden. They have a normal life, they travel to Norway sometimes, they come to visit and they go back," he said.

    "When I see that, it is tough for me. I'm lucky I didn't go crazy".

    Compared to its Scandinavian neighbour, Norway indeed appears to have stricter rules when it comes to asylum requests. According to Eurostat data, Sweden accepted roughly 77 percent of all asylum requests, compared to 64 percent for Norway.

    Despite his frustration with his situation in Norway, Jabiri has no intention of returning to Yemen.

    "I can't go back. I just hope everything will be okay, so that I can be useful to the society here and my kids will go further with their education, and the country will benefit from them in the future." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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