The authorities in Norway, which has about 17000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers, have decided to return 400 whose asylum applications have been rejected. In fact, after a long period when Somalis were not returned to Southern Somalia, the changed situation in Mogadishu, including the opening of the airport, has given them the idea that it is now safe to return people there.
UNHCR has strongly advised against it, and other Scandinavian countries are not doing the same, preferring to wait and see.
Norway, which likes to be seen as a humanitarian nation, with peace- keepers and conflict solvers in many countries, is now practising a very strict policy in the case of Somalis.
This has caused a lot of debate and uproar. One party in the coalition government, the Socialist Left party, has condemned it, the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers, NOAS, is protesting, as is the Norwegian Refugee Council, and all major newspapers are daily writing about the situation. In fact, since this became known, the UNHCR has made a special appeal to the government, warning of the dangers of returning people to Somalia at the moment, as it is “a threat to the right to life”.
Since the creation of a board which makes the final decision in the case of immigrants, instead of this being done by politicians in the parliament, as was previously the case, not even the Minister in charge has been able to sway the board. In all fairness, it has to be said that 80 % of Somalis have been granted permission to stay so far this year. The rest are considered not to be in danger if returned.
The fact that so many Somalis with Norwegian citizenship travel home every year is seen as proof that the country is safe.
Norwegian police accompany the returnees to Nairobi, and put them on a plane to Mogadishu, unaccompanied, as they consider it unsafe for them to enter Somalia.
Many people are asking what happens to them on arrival in Mogadishu. It was recently reported that four unsuccessful asylum seekers from unknown Western countries were denied entry to Mogadishu. If this happens to the ones returned from Norway, where are they now? Or, if they have succeeded in entering the country, how are they fairing? Norwegian authorities have no way of knowing.
Some journalists compare the situation in Mogadishu with that in Afghanistan when Taliban appeared to create calm and order, before they started to use the iron fist.
What will happen in Somalia is anyone’s guess, but this seems a particularly strange time to start returning people. Norway can afford to await the developments, and there are many forces working to change the decision.