It is obvious that most Ethiopian asylum seekers in Norway have already read or heard the news. My friends and I who are living in one of the refugee camps in Norway, the news has become a topic of discussion of the past week. For those who haven’t heard the news let me try to tell you briefly what it is all about. The Norwegian government has just made an agreement with its Ethiopian counterpart to return Ethiopian asylum seekers. This agreement stipulates that people should either return voluntarily with benefits or they will be deported after March 15, 2012.
This is a great victory for the Norwegian government, since they have been trying to make a deal for the last two decades.
The bilateral agreement between these two countries seems to undermine the interest of the third party, namely the Ethiopian asylum seekers who fled their country because of an authoritarian regime. On the other hand, for the two friendly countries, the deal seems to be a win win situation. Norway wants to get rid of Ethiopian asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected, whereas, in return, the Ethiopian government gets direct monetary or other forms of assistance from Norway on top of a reputation by western countries as a democratic and forgiving nation in the horn of Africa. What a deal, it’s truly friends with benefits at the expense of asylum seekers.
As I tried to point out above, the interest or the need of the Ethiopia asylum seekers in Norway was not at all taken into consideration by the negotiating parties. Most of the asylum seekers from Ethiopia are involved in different political parties before or after they came to Norway; parties that the Ethiopian government wrongly considers as terrorist organizations. It is therefore not very difficult to imagine the fate of these asylum seekers upon their return. One can’t expect a welcoming party at their arrival at the airport, right? In a country where a single party ruled for more than 20 years, it’s not very difficult to predict the fate of these asylum seekers. Torture, accusation of treason, imprisonment and taking their privileges will be the least they face up on their return home. Moreover they will be a hot topic for the propaganda machinery that the Ethiopian government is so good at convincing western donor countries.
The other part of this agreement that amazed me is the package deal about for voluntary returnees. It mentioned that IOM (International Organization for Migration) will provide 15,000 Norwegian Kroner (2576 dollar) in cash and 30000 kroner (5152 dollar) in the form of assistance for the returnees. Most asylum seekers in Norway used to think that IOM was an independent organization who is working for the benefit of asylum seekers. But this actually shows that IOM and Norwegian government are two sides of the same coin.
Regarding the so called the benefit, most of the asylum seekers in Norway have no financial problem in the first place. If their problems were of financial nature, they wouldn’t have reached Norway in the first place. We all know how much money it took us to get here. In fact, for a person who comes from Ethiopia it takes between 8-10 thousand dollar to reach to Norway. Therefore if Norway and Ethiopian government assumed the offered benefits as an incentive to arouse the interest of the asylum seekers for their return to Ethiopia the sums offered represent a miscalculated mistake. It’s for the reason that every asylum seekers sacrificed or paid more than what’s offered by the IOM/Norwegian government in terms of money, opportunity cost, psychological stress, mental dissatisfaction or other forms of payments.
I would like to urge the UN, Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch and other concerned bodies to look closely at this decision made by the two new friendly countries, which surely dismissed the interest and the need of the asylum seekers that live in Norway. Since this decision also has a dead line, March 15, 2012, it requires an urgent response from all parties who claim to be responsible for the rights of asylum seekers in Norway.