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Europe: Norway Liberalizes Asylum Policies

Copenhagen, 6 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Norway has announced a major turn-around in its hitherto restrictive immigration and asylum policies. The Nordic country of less than five million will in the future accept more refugees and will provide for easier family reunion for those already in the country.

The decision was made public yesterday by Norway's Justice Minister Gerd Liv Valla. Speaking in Oslo, Valla sought to appease critics of the new policies by emphasizing that the new polices will not necessarily increase the flow of refugees into Norway.

The biggest policy change concerns mainly refugees who do not fall under the provisions of the United Nations' 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and asylum. Like the other Scandinavian and some other West European nations, Norway has previously allowed migrants who cannot be considered as genuine political refugees -- in the sense of the Geneva Convention -- but who nevertheless have important humanitarian reasons for not returning to their countries of origin, to remain in the country.

Valla said yesterday that the conditions for providing such people with residence permits will now be loosened.

Proportionately, Norway has an immigrant population similar to that of most other West European countries. In recent years, most of its refugees have come from Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are currently about 12,000 Bosnians in the country.

Norway runs a comprehensive program for voluntary repatriation of refugees. It provides financial assistance to Bosnians wishing to return home, including paid transportation, free health insurance for a year, and a guarantee that, should they fail to re-establish themselves in Bosnia, they will within two years again be given a residence permit in Norway.