ISLAMABAD / GUJRAT: Around 50 Pakistani asylum seekers have been deported from Norway.

Many more will soon be sent back to their home country or to Russia, as the Norwegian government has now introduced stricter rules for asylum seekers, Norwegian Ambassador Tore Nedrebø said in a statement here on Thursday.

More than 400 Pakistani citizens have applied for asylum in Norway during the current year. Most of them have crossed the Norwegian-Russian border in the High North during the last month.

Also read: EU warns of tough action against Pakistani migrants

Like in other European countries, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Norway has recently increased sharply. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 asylum seekers will come to Norway in 2015. The new rush is particularly challenging at the Norwegian-Russian border crossing station at Storskog, where winter has now set in.

Norwegian authorities consider that most of those currently crossing the border are not fleeing from civil war or persecution. Earlier this autumn, the majority was from Syria. Now well over half are from other countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. A large proportion of them are single young men. “Few are entitled to protection and they are putting an unnecessary burden on the Norwegian system,” the ambassador said.

Legislative amendments adopted by Oslo last week enable a speedy return of asylum seekers without real need of protection to their home country, or to their country of habitual residence, which may be Russia. The new legislation also contains provisions making it possible to arrest and remand in custody foreign nationals whose asylum applications will most likely not be processed, or to impose on them a duty to report to the authorities and to stay in a specific place.

Benefits for asylum seekers have been reduced and rules for family immigration are tightened.

The new rules also increase the discretion of Norwegian immigration authorities not to process an asylum request if the applicant has already resided in a safe third country. “Norway considers Russia to be a safe country,” Mr Nedrebø said.

He points out that to be eligible for asylum under the international Refugee Convention, a person must be in real need of protection. People whose applications are denied must return to their home country or the country of habitual residence. Those who do not leave voluntarily will be returned by force. Asylum applications that appear likely to be denied will be given priority and fast-tracked.

“Applications from Pakistani nationals generally fall into this category,” the ambassador said.

Some central region districts of Punjab such as Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Jhelum, Sialkot and Gujranwala have been the potential areas of those who seek asylum in European countries, including Norway. Some 40,000 expatriates of Pakistani origin are currently residing in Norway and around 30,000 of them belong only to Gujrat district. It is generally believed that those who have recently been refused asylum by the Norwegian government are from Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin districts.

Talking to Dawn, Attaché (Migration) of Norwegian Embassy Torben Sveaass Kalland said that “between 20 and 30 Pakistanis have been deported during the past few weeks. It shows that the number of people, who are trying to go to Norway illegally, has suddenly increased”.

He said majority of people who crossed the Norwegian-Russian border had valid Russian visa which showed that they travelled to Russia legally and then they crossed the border illegally.

“We have informed the Russian embassy in Islamabad about the situation at Storskog and the new policy.”

Replying to a question, he said that generally people, who cross borders illegally, destroy their passports.

All the people crossing the Norwegian border with Russia had documents. “The part of Russia bordering Norway is a militarised area, so Pakistanis cannot afford to travel without documents in those areas. So they carry their passports and identity documents,” he added.

“We obviously cannot stop people travelling from Pakistan to Russia. But we will certainly consider all possibilities to reduce the number of people crossing the border without a visa.”

Director of the Federal Investigation Agency (Immigration) Inam Ghani told Dawn said that he was aware that the people had been trying to go to Norway from Russia but claimed that they were going to Russia on legal documents.

“Currently two types of people have been going to Russia. Some are going after getting a visit visa and others on a student visa. We cannot stop those who travel on legal documents,” he said.

“We, however, have started profiling of travellers. During profiling, we ask them the purpose of their visit abroad and why they want to go especially to Russia. If a person who intends to go to Russia has just $150 and it is confirmed that he never travelled even to Murree in the past we stop him from proceeding,” he said.

“I believe that Norway should take up the issue with Russia and persuade its embassy to change its visa policy,” Mr Ghani said.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2015

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