Norwegian Asylum Policy and Response to the 2015 Refugee Crisis

Publication Date01 October 2020
AuthorSumbul Parveen
SubjectResearch Article
Research Article
Norwegian Asylum
Policy and Response to
the 2015 Refugee Crisis
Sumbul Parveen1
In recent years, Norway has emerged as an important destination of asylum for
refugees. During the refugee crisis of 2015, Norway, with a total population of
slightly above 5 million, received more than 31,000 applications for asylum. This
was close to the total number of asylum seekers it had received in the last three
years. This article discusses Norway’s history as an asylum destination as well
as policies for the protection and integration of refugees. It focuses on how the
refugee crisis of 2015 unfolded in Norway. The domestic political discourse and
the response of civil society organizations are analysed. The article also looks at
the changes introduced in the asylum policy and the role of the European Union
in determining Norway’s response to the crisis.
Norway, asylum destination, refugee crisis of 2015, political parties, civil society
organizations, European Union
In the last few decades, Norway, under its various asylum policies, has received
refugees from different parts of the world. These policies have evolved over the
years and play a crucial role in determining the country’s reputation as an asylum
destination. The watershed in refugee immigration to Norway came in 2015 when
there was an unprecedented influx and the country’s asylum regime came under
pressure. In response, Norway introduced certain measures. In this article, the
1 Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New
Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Sumbul Parveen, Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi 110067, India.
International Studies
57(4) 391–406, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720965050
392 International Studies 57(4)
first section traces the trajectory of Norway from being a country of emigration to
immigration. The second section provides a holistic discussion of Norway’s
asylum and integration policies. The third section gives a bird’s eye view of the
refugee inflow in Norway in 2015 and the routes through which they entered. The
fourth section analyses the response of three main entities: political parties, civil
society organizations and the government. The last section examines the European
Union (EU)’s role in Norway’s introduction of a stringent asylum policy.
Norway as Asylum Destination
From the 19th until the early 20th centuries, Norway was a country from where
people were emigrating, mostly to the United States. Although refugees were
coming intermittently, it was only from the mid-1950s that Norway emerged as a
destination of asylum for refugees. Between 1846 and 1900, around 513,000
Norwegians crossed the Atlantic Sea to reach the United States and between 1865
and 1930, the total number of Norwegians who immigrated to the United States
was 780,000 (Joranger, 2011, p. 80; Thonstad et al., 2001, p. 474).
Some of the reasons due to which individuals and families opted to leave
Norway in the 19th century were the push factors1 such as ‘…the lack of cultivable
land under a system of primogeniture where the eldest son inherited a farm in its
entirety, religious intolerance (at least in the earliest years), escalating taxes in the
wake of independence’ (Linn, 2015, p. 236). Besides, there were certain pull
factors,2 such as the promise of cheap and fertile cultivable land in the Midwestern
United States (Linn, 2015, p. 8). However, the most compelling reason was ‘...the
prospect of material betterment and the love of a freer and more independent life
[in the United States]’ (Flom, 1909, p. 88).
Until the 1880s, it was mostly Norway’s rural families which were immigrating
to the United States. But by the end of the 19th century, even urban Norwegians
had begun to arrive in the United States in substantial numbers. However, the
Immigration Act (1924)3 passed by the United States restricted immigration and,
consequently, the number of Norwegian immigrants plummeted following the Act
(Library of Congress, 2018).
While emigration fell, Norway began to experience immigration of refugees,
though of low levels, and it was not until 1933 that the country witnessed the
arrival of refugees in significant numbers. When Adolf Hitler came to power in
Germany in 1933, his anti-Semitic policies resulted in the mass movement of
Jews who fled to various countries for protection. Many also entered Norway
(Berman, 2010, p. 73). In June 1940, Norway fell under the German control and
remained until the defeat of Hitler in 1945. In 1947, Norway accepted the first
organized group of 400 Jewish refugees (Cook, 2001, p. 935).
In 1953, Norway ratified the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees and internationally committed itself to the protection of refugees. The
first significant group of refugees that Norway received during the Cold War was
from Hungary. In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution and its suppression by the
former Soviet Union had caused an exodus of 200,000 refugees, most of whom

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