The government’s aim of settling more asylum seekers in Norwegian municipalities amongst rising residency-approved numbers is encountering hurdles due to local officials’ budget problems, reports say.
“People who have been granted residence in Norway must get a municipality to live in. The sooner people are settled, the sooner they get to use their capabilities,” Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion Inga Marte Thorkildsen said.
The government aims to settle some 7,500 displaced persons in 2013, with 8,000 per year afterwards through 2016.
These numbers have been 6,000 per year in recent times. Roughly 4,000 asylum seekers with approved residency are still waiting for housing, staying in Norway’s reception centres until then. Officials call this figure “historically high”.
Norway’s Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) has now written to 328 municipalities. They ask they increase this year’s numbers, settling 10,000 in 2014, and 9,000 per year the following two.
“Settling refugees is a permanent municipal task, which must be based on a long-term plan. Good planning is essential to obtain adequate housing, and that the refugees should get work and receive education,” IMDi director Geir Barvik says in a statement.
Municipalities that agree to settling displaced persons receive state funding to cover housing they must provide and integration, amongst other things via a specific introduction programme.
“Good systems for certification are needed for refugees to constitute a resource which local authorities and employment benefit from,” says Mr Barvik.
Latest IMDi figures list some 20 per cent of Norway’s 370 municipalities asked as having met the entire quota. Most say yes to settling refugees, but do not take the entire number.
Their inquiry sent to municipal top-dogs shows some 45 per cent believe the government is being too ambitious. There are continued reports of housing shortages.
The government is now altering funding criteria for rental housing for refugees and other priority groups.
Norway’s State Housing Bank (Husbanken) will be able to provide up to 40 percent, an increase from 20 percent, according to Liv Signe Navarsete, Local Government and Regional Development Minister.
At the same time, Aftenposten writes some municipalities like Skien – which has been one at the forefront of settling refuges – is experiencing budget pressures due to rising housing, social, education, and health costs.
The municipality now faces a deficit, and having to make staff redundant if they do not reduce the number of refugees they take in for the first time.
“We’ve taken in the refugees we have been asked to for 10 years, but costs are now shooting skywards,” Knut Wille, Skien municipality councilor told the paper.
He also blames the standard of some of the government’s measures for displaced persons.
“The integration and qualification programme is inadequate. We’ve not been able to get enough immigrants into education and work,” Mr Wille concluded, calling the decision to decrease refugee settlement numbers “a shame”.