The Syrians

President Obama, who represents our main ally, admitted in an interview with New York Post recently that he had underestimated ISIS, but there is plenty of blame to go around. According to an internal State Department assessment The New York Times reported on, the effort (by the US + allies) to fight ISIS in social media has been a failure. We are clearly seeing a different type of terrorism, and it’s not that obvious that we have made this region more stable and life better to the majority of civilians. It’s bad enough that the alliance we are a part of could have stopped both ISIS and the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad earlier, but we are possibly co-responsible for the acute situation we have seen in the countries we have helped: Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya. It’s decent of us to offer help to the civilian population, but clearly we didn’t get everything right.

Now we are doing symbolic gestures to undo the damage. One of the problems in the recent past has been that as long as the alliance hasn’t been present on the ground, and been able to offer an alternative to the terrorist group, many civilians preferred ISIS from NATO. This was the situation while NATO dropped bombs, but that may have changed now. I still don’t think we can count on all the skepticism towards us outsiders to be completely gone. A group of specialists from The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration visited refugee camps in countries bordering Syria last year. The aim was to screen the refugees and prevent ISIS-terrorists from coming to Norway as refugees and create “resting cells.” Some of the parties in our parliament have claimed that you exaggerate and even express racism if you have reservations like this, but I think these are questions that need to be asked and answered.

The UN asked a while back the so called international community to accept another 40 000 Syrian refugees. This became a very controversial case because the Labour Party wanted Norway to accept 10 000, or 25 % of the total amount, in addition to the ones we already grant asylum. After hard negotiations between the opposition and the government Norway agreed to 8 000 Syrians over three years. There was a strong feeling that the three parties in the coalition government had been cowards and failed the Syrians, but is that really fair?

In my opinion it would make more sense to help the countries bordering Syria, and Italy, which have been struggling with handling large numbers of refugees. I believe money, personnel and equipment would have helped more people. This would have been similar to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, except that it would be more like field hospitals and logistics. I don’t think it would be delusional to imagine that people come here with a false identity. When I researched the original Norwegian version of this post I found a nine year old article saying that 1400 Iraqis in Norway had a false identity. This story was about one of them trying to get his real identity back, which is first of all difficult, but also risky as the risk of being deported is high. I don’t know if that was the reason, but Police Immigration deported 126 Syrians last year (100 of the so-called Dublin regulation, which means that they came to Norway after being turned down in another European country) and 41 so far this year (29 Dublin). I agree that Norway must help those who need it, especially as we supported the dictators for decades, but not uncritically.

A Norwegian news site had an article in March this year where they made a big deal of the difference in the number of Syrian refugees in Norway and Sweden. The paper referred to The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) that criticized Norwegian authorities for not doing more. As of March 1st this year there were 56,285 Syrians in Sweden and only 4 000 in Norway, which NRC believes makes Sweden more generous. This figure confirms a trend, immigration in Sweden is higher than in Norway, but what is the price they pay for this? In the period 2004-2009 the immigration to Sweden was 219 000. In 2009 about 8 000 of them settled in Gothenburg, while 4000 more residents left the city. When you accept a lot of people in a short period of time, integration is difficult, and some suburbs of Gothenburg have 90 % immigrants. These neighbourhoods appear on statistics of high crime rate and poverty, but in the present climate you can’t talk about this without being labelled intolerant.

The problem in Sweden was that the politicians had a vision of Swedes being a part of this diversity. They didn’t bother asking what the people wanted  and the only accepted attitude has been that the new cultures are only making the community better. They enrich the country. Nevertheless they were never really a part of the community. The immigrants lived in a sort of parallel society. They developed ghettos and the Swedes moved out. This is called white flight. We are seeing the same tendencies in many of the suburbs in Oslo as well. This can create racism and a sense among minorities that this is not their land.

The most important tools in terms of integrating immigrants are language and work. The first is a prerequisite for the second. Integration may be especially challenging to Muslims because we are not talking about one people, one culture and one religion. Muslim and Islam can be very different things in Somalia, Syria and Bangladesh. When The Directorate of Integration and Diversity states that the objective of the Introduction Programme (a two year course where refugees learn the language and how to support themselves) is that 55 % of the participants will get a job or study after the two year course, I wonder what happens to them afterwards. Do they get a relevant job, are they treated on an equal footing with Norwegians? The result for the Introduction Programme was 47 % in 2013 and 44 % last year. The are many that quit before they complete the course. What statistics do they end up in? Incidentally, I have referred to studies in previous posts showing that immigrants with a degree from a Norwegian university only have a 30 % chance of getting a job. There is a lot of documentation showing that having a foreign name is a major disadvantage when applying for a job. Many face the same attitude when they try to rent/buy a house. So I wonder how integrated these people really are.

“Our” war in Syria has made the situation difficult for the neighbourng countries, as well as Italy. We need to help these countries handle the humanitaran crisis, but there might be better alternatives than subjecting more refugees to our asylum centres.
Photo: zdivid via freedigitalphotos.net

The level of education was high in the cities in Syria before the war, and an increasing number of Syrians are applying to get their education recognised in Norway. Its a good thing that we can help people and also get some qualified people we need, but this requires something from us. Are we willing to give Farid from Syria a job as a doctor at the hospital or Nadifa from Somalia a job as an engineer at the ship yard? Many would say yes, but would they still be that positive if they or someone close to them, applied for the same job?

So I question how ready we are for a major immigration, especially a Muslim immigration on the scale they’ve had in Sweden. We may be irritated with the government that was more conservative than Labour, knowing very well that the latter could make a lot of promises without having the responsibility of implementing them. We have municipal and county election later this year, and parliamentary election in two years. I think the new leader of the Labour Party is preparing for that. We are already seeing the effects because one of the members of the three party coalition government is having internal issues. This is a party that wants less immigration and they were pressured to accept more. So many of their own members want them to leave the coalition.

There seems to be a lot of resistance to bringing 8 000 Syrians to Norway. No one knows how well these are going to be integrated, but I am skeptical myself. No one wants to admit that racism exists here and that integration isn’t as successful as the authorities claim. What we are seeing in many cases is that we just make room for immigrants and allow them to live outside our own community. This kind of tolerance could very well backfire. It’ll be interesting to see if the Syrians will play a role at the election in two years. I am sure it will in my home town because they are talking about closing down a retirement home, and moving more seniors into the same room. This is how they propose to finance the integration. This is not helping if you want Norwegians to support this.

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