Unaccompanied minors in Norway: Policies, practices and data in 2014 (2014)
In 2014, it was decided that the studyshould be updated to reflect the current situation. For Norway, this was the first EMN study on UAMs, as Norway only joined the EMN as an associate member in 2011.
This report therefore provides a comprehensive presentation of policies, practices and statistics on unaccompanied minors who come to Norway, presented in a “chronological” order from arrival to return or settlement.
In 2009, Norway received its highest ever number of unaccompanied
minor asylum seekers – 2,5001 – firmly placing UAMs on Norway’s immigration political agenda. Norway did not only receive a high absolute number of UAMs, but in fact received the second highest number of UAMs in Europe. At the time, UAMs from Afghanistan were the largest group. In subsequent years, UAM arrivals have been much lower (850-1,070 per year). Somali and Eritrean UAMs now (2014) make up a larger proportion of UAMs than before, and there are fewer UAMs from Afghanistan.
Following the high arrivals of asylum seekers in 2008 and 2009, the Norwegian government introduced a number of restrictive measures. One such measure targeted UAMs between the ages of 16 and 18. Those UAMs who did not qualify for asylum but who could not be returned for the sole reason that there was no proper care situation to return them to, would be granted a temporary permit without possibility of renewal. UAMs receiving this permit would only be allowed to
remain in Norway until they turned 18. While it has not been applied widely, this permit has come under criticism from NGOs and other commentators, and it appears that some permit holders abscond from reception centres prior to the transition to adulthood in order to avoid return.
This and other policy concerns related to disappearances of UAMs are discussed in chapter 5. As we will see in chapter 3 of this report, Norway has made a number of steps in recent years to improve and streamline assessment procedures for asylum seekers, with several changes directly targeting UAMs. Norway has recently reformed its legislation, policy and practice with regard to legal guardians for UAMs, now referred to as “representatives”.
In 2011 an on-call guardian service was set up to facilitate police registration of asylum applications for UAM asylum seekers. Important efforts have also been made in order to streamline and speed up application processing times across the immigration administration,with particular focus on UAMs, in order to ensure timely decisionmaking. Norway is also currently funding a research and development project to develop and improve age testing and assessment procedures.
Application processing times as well as the waiting time between a positive response and settlement in a Norwegian municipality has gone down over the past few years, and UAMs who obtain asylum or subsidiary protection are now settled within, on average 5-5.5 months of application.
Norway’s reception system for UAMs (described in detail in chapter 4)
is divided between one run by the national child welfare services (Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, henceforth called Bufetat) for those under 15, and one overseen by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), as part of the general reception system, for those aged 15-18. Evaluations have proposed to transfer responsibility for the 15-18 group to Bufetat, but this has so far been
put off due to the prohibitive cost.
The 15-18 age group receives generally adequate care in the ordinary reception system (either in specialised centres for UAMs or in separate units for UAMs at ordinary centres), but different concerns have been identified. These relate to access to adequate healthcare (especially specialist care and care for mental health issues), screening of and care for vulnerable groups, access to adequate nutrition, and access to education for those aged 16-18.
There are also concerns about UAMs from both age groups who go missing from reception centres. Living in a reception centre is voluntary, but it is of great concern when minors leave and those responsible do not know where they go.
In response to the concern over disappearances, a fast-track registration procedure was introduced in 2014 to ensure that adequate information is gathered about those UAM who fit the profile of UAMs likely to disappear. Efforts have also been made in recent years to improve coordination among different actors with regard to handling disappearances.
The EMN study targets both “UAMs seeking asylum” and “UAMs not seeking asylum”. In Norway, in principle, there are no third country national (TCN) “unaccompanied minors not applying for asylum”. When police encounter TCN unaccompanied minors who have not yet filed an asylum claim, these youth will be directed toward the asylum procedure as there are no other means through which they can regularise their stay in Norway.