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Norway Gripped As 'Citizen Of The Year' Faces Deportation To Russia


Norwegian authorities say residing in their country for as long as Maria Amelie did is a serious offense.
Norwegian authorities say residing in their country for as long as Maria Amelie did is a serious offense.
She's young, bright, well educated, and she loves her adoptive country, Norway.

She recently published a successful book and was even named "2010 Citizen of the Year" by a Norwegian magazine.

Yet the Russian-born Maria Amelie remains an illegal migrant after almost a decade in Norway and faces imminent deportation.

Her story, which she recounted in her book "Illegal Norwegian" published in September, has moved many in Norway.

Rights groups, politicians, and celebrities have thrown their weight behind the 25-year-old Amelie. Some 1,000 supporters rallied for her release in Oslo this week, and some 90,000 people have joined her support group on Facebook.

Amelie, who was released on January 18 after being briefly placed in a detention center for migrants near Oslo, insists her home is in Norway, not Russia.

"I live in constant fear," she told NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, shortly after her release. "As soon as I pause for a few minutes, it becomes difficult to breathe, which is the way I felt at the detention center. I've come a long way, I've fought for myself. My friends and the whole country supported me in this fight. Where am I supposed to go now? My home is here, in Norway."

Norwegian authorities, however, have refused to bow to pressure. Amelie was detained by eight police officers on January 12 and placed in a detention center for migrants near Oslo where she said she was treated like "a criminal."

Uphill Climb

Amelie was released from the center on January 18, but her close friend and lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, says she will probably be deported to Russia in the coming days.

"Immigration authorities consider that residing in Norway as long as she did without documents is a very serious offense," Risnes says. "Although she has lived here for such a long time and has truly become a Norwegian woman, authorities insist that she must leave Norway and return to her native country. Judging from the way things look now, she is highly likely to be sent to Russia."

Amelie's supporters have appealed to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. But Stoltenberg made it clear last week that he would not intervene in her favor.

"We must treat everyone in the same way," Stoltenberg said. "We cannot make an exception just because a person has drawn a lot of attention. If we start making exceptions from the rules, we will start receiving thousands of unfounded asylum requests."

Rights groups say Amelie cannot be held responsible for violating immigration laws, since she was a minor when her family sought and was denied asylum in Norway.

Amelie, whose real name is reportedly Madina Salamova, was born in Vladikavkaz, in Russia's republic of North Ossetia. Her parents fled the North Caucasus after receiving death threats over their refusal to hand over part of their wealthy business to local authorities.

The family moved to Ukraine, Moscow, and then Finland, where they were denied residency, before fleeing to Norway.

Rights groups say Amelie was never given the opportunity to explain herself to Norwegian immigration authorities. Like many in Norway, they believed she was singled out because of her book, in which she describes Norwegian migration officials as prejudiced and corrupt.

Changing Perceptions

Berit Lindeman, from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, says Amelie has touched the hearts of Norwegians for her courage and her exceptional efforts to integrate.

"She managed to learn fluent Norwegian within a year and a half, she graduated from high school with only top grades two years after arriving in Norway," Lindeman says. "She managed to enter university, where she gained a master's degree with top grades."

Lindeman says Amelie has deeply challenged the perception of asylum seekers in Norway.

"In the [wider public], asylum seekers are seen as a group without resources," Lindeman says. "It has been an eye-opener for Norwegians, to see a person with so many positive sides and such a great amount of resources."

Rights groups say her case highlights the need to ease rules for illegal migrants, particularly for children, who have spent many years in the country and have successfully integrated into Norwegian society.

Amelie's supporters are now worried about her fate once she is sent back to Russia.

Since her arrest, the young woman has been offered a job in Norway and can in principle return on a Norwegian work visa. But her deportation means she could be barred from returning to the country for several years. Another potential complication is that Amelie left Russia when she was only 12 and never held her own passport.

The Russian rights group Memorial has offered to assist Amelie, who has neither relatives nor friends in Russia.

Her parents, meanwhile, remain in hiding in Norway.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this story