Norway: Not returning asylum seekers to Greece

Norway has stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece, following reports that they've have been abused and deported to their countries of origin without due process. Some of Norway's biggest law firms, meanwhile, are offering to help refugees whose appeals have been rejected by Norwegian officials.

Immigration officials have told police in charge of initial deportations from Norway not to send any refugees back to Greece, if that's the country from which they came to Norway.

Under terms of a European agreement signed in Dublin, asylum seekers can be returned to the European country where they first applied for refugee status. Norway sent 74 asylum seekers back to Greece last year, on the basis of that agreement.

Norwegian officials are now concerned, however, over reports from a Greek attorneys' association that suggest systematic violations of international refugee- and human rights. Asylum seekers detained by police in Greece have complained of being beaten, abused with electric rods and threatened.

"For us, this is first and foremost about ensuring asylum seekers' rights," said Terje Sjeggestad, head of the agency in charge of refugee cases and appeals, UNE (Utlendingsnemda), "We have obligations to fulfill through several international conventions."

Norway has earlier stopped return of refugees to Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon and Ethiopia, but Greece is the first European country that's caused concern. Sjeggestad said he couldn't say how long the ban on returns would last.

Attorneys' advocacy effort

Several of Norway's largest law firms, meanwhile, have started offering free legal help to refugees whose cases have been considered and rejected by UNE. Around 10 cases are now being challenged in court.

Firms including Wikborg Rein, Hjort and Thommessen have engaged themselves in what's likely the first voluntary efforts by attorneys to appeal cases on behalf of rejected refugees, newspaper Aftenposten reported this week.

An attorney's association has gone through 123 asylum cases involving refugees whose applications were turned down by Norwegian authorities. Twelve cases were chosen as appeal candidates, with member attorneys taking them to court.

"Too many of UNE's decisions are wrong," claimed attorney Arild Humlen. "We think it's high time UNE's decisions are subjected to court review."

Sjeggestad said he welcomed the effort, claiming in turn that it would strengthen asylum seekers' rights.

Source: Aftenposten (English)

See also: Greece: Dealing with illegal immigration

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