Norway hosted 5,940 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002. These included 4,340 asylum seekers with pending asylum claims, about 1,270 refugees resettled in Norway during the year, and 330 persons granted asylum.
During the year, around 17,500 persons applied for asylum in Norway, 16 percent over the previous year and the highest number of applications ever received in a single year. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Yugoslavia (2,460), the Russian Federation (1,720), Iraq (1,620), and Somalia (1,530).
In 2002, out of 12,360 decisions, the Directorate for Immigration (UDI) granted asylum to 330 persons (3 percent), residence permits on humanitarian grounds to around 2,960 persons (24 percent), and rejected 9,070 (73 percent). Additionally, some 3,760 cases were referred to other European Union countries under the Dublin Convention, and 1,730 applicants withdrew their applications.
During 2002, Norway resettled refugees referred by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from countries including Afghanistan (350), Iran (320), and Yugoslavia (130).
The Aliens Law of 1988 and the Aliens Decree of 1990 govern Norway's asylum procedure. Police conduct an initial screening of asylum seekers, who receive limited legal assistance in filing their applications. The police forward the asylum claims to the UDI, which interviews the asylum seekers on the merits of their claims.
After submitting their applications, asylum seekers are either transferred to a reception center or stay with relatives or friends while awaiting decisions. At the end of 2002, some 16,000 persons lived in 140 reception centers across the country. This number includes both asylum seekers waiting for a decision, and those who have received residence permits, but due to widespread housing shortages in Norway, have to stay in reception centers for up to eight months to obtain a separate residence. During the normal asylum procedure, the Norwegian government provides a limited monthly allowance and medical care and permits them to work. The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, a non-governmental organization, provides free legal advice to asylum seekers.
Humanitarian Residence Permits
In addition to granting asylum based on the UN Refugee Convention, the UDI may also grant "humanitarian residence permits" to persons who do not meet the definition of a refugee, but who are nevertheless in need of international protection "on the grounds of strong humanitarian considerations" or to asylum seekers who have "strong attachments" to Norway. Humanitarian residence permits are valid for one year and may be renewed annually. The UDI grants permanent residence status to applicants after three years.
The government may also extend temporary protection to groups in situations of mass refugee flight.
Rejected applicants have three weeks after notification to appeal a negative decision. Appeals of claims deemed manifestly unfounded do not suspend deportation orders. In 2001, a Board of Appeals was established as an independent body of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to replace the Justice Ministry to review all UDI decisions.
Local municipalities are responsible for providing recognized refugees with housing and integration services, such as language and vocational training. Refugees and holders of humanitarian residence permits are eligible for the same medical care and public assistance as Norwegian citizens.
Asylum seekers are usually deemed inadmissible to the asylum procedure if they have traveled through a country deemed able to offer protection. While Norway does not use official lists to determine safe countries, in practice the authorities consider Denmark, Sweden, and Germany to be safe.
Under a new regulation introduced in August 2002, the government restricted grants of residence permits, normally given to asylum applicants automatically after more than 15 months' delay, to those who came with valid travel documents and are not responsible for the delay. On June 1, 2002, the government removed rejected asylum seekers' entitlement to welfare benefits.