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Norway: Immigration Policy Influenced by Female Genital Mutilation Risk

(May 1, 2009) It was reported in the Norwegian press on April 18, 2009, that the country's Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) has reversed 50 Directorate of Immigration (UDI)refusals of asylum for African families with girls. Most of the asylum seekers were from Somalia or Eritrea. UDI is the central government body in charge of aliens and in general makes decisions of first instance in asylum cases. UNE, “a politically independent administrative body,” interprets the law and issues rulings in appeals against UDI decisions. (Report in Norway Daily: Female Genital Mutilation Risk Influences Asylum Policy, AFTENPOSTEN ONLINE [in Norwegian], Apr. 18, 2009, Open Source Center No. EUP20090419004007.)

The ground for the UNE reversals was the fact that the families might have their daughters circumcised should the families be unable to remain in Norway. The high risk of genital mutilation was an assessment made by UNE, not by the applicant families, according to UNE senior advisor Jan Olav Barstad, who explained:

Many of the cases revolve around girls born after the application for asylum or after the UDI makes a decision in a case. Normally girls from the countries that the UNE deals with undergo genital mutilation in the period from birth to 10 years of age. It is in this period that the risk of genital mutilation is highest. (Id.)

The UNE adopts the stance that Norway has the duty to respect human rights. As Barstad stated, “[g]enital mutilation is a serious infringement, conflicting with fundamental human rights. Therefore the UNE has based its procedure on there being a duty to assess this, irrespective of whether it is mentioned [by the applicants].” (Id.)

African refugees have been granted entry in more than 80 percent of cases handled this year, despite a tightening of the asylum procedure for Somalis announced in October 2008. That measure was one of 13 aimed at limiting the increasing numbers of persons granted asylum. The Ministry of Labor and Social Inclusion had ordered the UDI not to routinely assess the risk of genital mutilation or to talk to the children, after the agency on its own initiative had sought permission to do so. The UNE is not bound by the Ministry's directive, however, even if its case reversals are in direct conflict with the directive.

Barstad noted that parents' ability to protect their daughters from genital mutilation in Somalia “will often be limited” and dismissed as “speculation” the criticism that the system rewards with entry into Norway parents who intimate they may subject their daughters to the practice. However, Conservative politicians, tend to disagree. “No one doubts it is a very serious infringement but I do not agree that it should give the parents right of entry,” Conservative Ben Hoie stated. He added:

Besides, we have several examples of parents' having gone home and had their children undergo genital mutilation anyway. Even if the UNE is an independent body resembling a court, it is very problematic that the UNE is pursuing an independent immigration policy that directly conflicts with the government's wishes. (Id.)

Although the current number of asylum seekers arriving in Norway is the lowest it has been in many years, reports the NORWAY POST, “the number granted asylum is higher than before” because “the number of pretend asylum seekers [from East European countries] has been reduced, while the number with a real need of protection has increased,” according to Paula Tolonen, Director of the UDI. (Rolleiv Solholm, Fewer Asylum Seekers to Norway, THE NORWAY POST, Apr. 29, 2009, available at http://www.norwaypost.no/content/view/4852/26/; see also NOAS – The Asylum Process in Norway, May 14, 2007, Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers website, available at http://www.noas.org/?p=news&news_id=761.)