Sunday, March 11, 2012

Norway to deport over 400 refugees back to Ethiopia

Starting from March 15, the Norwegian government is to send back over 400 Ethiopian refugees living in the country without legal documents or resident permit.

On January 26, Torgeir Larsen, State Secretary with Norwegian government and Ambassador Berhane Gebrekristos, State Minister of Foreign Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries here in Addis Ababa . The MoU envisages that the agreement would enable Ethiopian citizens in Norway to return to Ethiopia in a secure and dignified manner.

According to the MoU, the agreement opens the door for Ethiopian citizens to obtain support for a voluntary return.

“Ethiopian citizens have for many years been a large group of asylum seekers in Norway, and we are very pleased that we have entered into an agreement that will promote their return to Ethiopia,” said State Secretary Paul K. Lønseth of the Justice and Emergency Services.

The agreement stipulates that Ethiopian citizens who choose to return voluntarily are entitled to receive a lump sum upon arrival at their country and offered support to reintegrate that paves the way for a new start in Ethiopia. For Ethiopians who do not want to go voluntarily the agreement reserves for the government of Norway the option of enforced return.

“It's true, Norway is sending back Ethiopians who have no legal paper (resident permission) to stay,” Getachew Alemayehu, an Ethiopian refugee who received resident permit to live in Norway told The Reporter late this week via email. He added, “There is also financial benefit for those who are returning home voluntarily, and if not they will be deported forcibly by withholding the benefit package at the same time.”

According to Getachew, up to 2009, Norway used to give work permit to all asylum seekers. But it had to abandon this policy because of the increasing number of immigrants forcing people to stay in camps without work. Some people went back to their countries, as a matter of fact.

The financial benefits for those who are returning home voluntarily include about 45,000 birr when they arrive in Addis Ababa, he stated. And they will be given an additional 90,000 birr to start business, to pursue their education or use it for whatever purpose they have in mind. Totally, about 130,000 birr will be given to those who sign the agreement to return home voluntary up to March 15, 2012.

Norway will deport asylum seekers who do not comply and have had their asylum cases rejected. Some people have already signed while others refused, Getachew said.

Political predicament

Some human rights activist organizations and media commentators are arguing that the deportation is going to have a political consequence as it covers political refugees as well.

Ann-Magrit Austenå, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Organizations for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), said in a statement posted on the organization’s website that many of the refugees who are about to be sent home are political refugees and that this will have consequences for some of them.

However, Ambassador Dina Mufti, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Reporter that the Ethiopian asylum seekers are not political refugees but rather economic refugees, adding that in order to overcome their plight a financial benefit package is ready to be offered through which they can support themselves after arriving back in Ethiopia.

“There would be no pressure from the Ethiopian government. Ethiopia has a law that protects the right of an individual, either to travel and reside abroad or return back to his/her homeland,” Dina told The Reporter.

Their return depends on their willingness, he added. If they are not willing, the Norwegian government might use force to deport them. “As Norway is a sovereign country, the Ethiopian government cannot argue against forced return,” Dina said.

 Source: The Reporter

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