The parliament’s vote on unaccompanied minors does not bring Norwegian practice in line with the Refugee Convention

On the 14th of November, the Norwegian parliament voted in favour of a temporary halt in the forced returns of some unaccompanied minors, deciding that their cases be reassessed. The consequences of the decision are nevertheless uncertain. In our view, the parliament has to reinstate the reasonability requirement to ensure treatment of unaccompanied minors in accordance with the Refugee Convention. Never before has the need for legal aid to unaccompanied minors been greater.

The parliament has voted to stop the forced returns of youth who got decisions as unaccompanied minors and were granted temporary residence permits after they were referred to seek internal flight in their home country. The children and youth will have their cases reassessed according to new criteria. NOAS considers it positive that the parliament by this acknowledged that Norway has become too restrictive in the treatment of unaccompanied minors, and that steps are taken to treat particularly vulnerable children in a more decent manner.

Stopping returns is a commendable step, but it has to be followed by a reassessment of the asylum cases, in accordance with our international obligations. The Labor party’s suggestion, which the parliament voted in favour of, does not ensure this. A new proposal states that,: “the lack of caregivers, network and/or resources to establish oneself in the internal flight area shall be taken into account when considering whether unaccompanied minors are to be given an ordinary permission according to §38 in the Immigration Act”. The alternative to an ordinary residence permit is a temporary permit lasting only until the person becomes 18 years old. The Labor party has stated that the purpose of their suggestion is to reduce the use of such temporary permits. However, it is unclear whether the decision in parliament will have such effect, as the Directorate of Immigration is already considering the criteria mentioned in the new proposal.

Reinstate the reasonableness requirement

It is crucial that the parliament reinstates the reasonableness requirement in the consideration of the internal flight alternative. The removal of the reasonableness requirement is in breach with the Refugee Convention, which Norway is bound by. To refer a child to seek internal flight is unreasonable, and thereby in breach of Norway’s obligations under international law. Read why here (in Norwegian). It is the removal of the reasonableness requirement that has lead to the great increase in the use of temporary permits to unaccompanied minors. Children who had earlier been granted asylum, are now given temporary permits until they turn 18 years old. Only the reinstatement of the reasonableness requirement will ensure a real decrease in the numbers of children granted such permits.

Need for legal aid

It is unclear what consequences the parliament’s vote will have for the affected children, and whether it will in fact result in any decrease in the use of temporary permits. Never has the need for legal aid and information to unaccompanied minors been greater. NOAS wishes to prioritize advocacy work for the minors’ rights as well as provision of legal aid and information, but the need will be greater than our current resources allow. We are therefore in need of more funds.