When Angela Merkel invited refugees to Germany in 2015, tearing up the rules obliging migrants to seek asylum in the first country they arrive in, the consequences were pretty immediate.

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Sylvi Listhaug - Norway’s Migration Minister

Over 160,000 went to Sweden, leading to well-publicised disruption. Next door, things were different. Norway took in just 30,000; this year it has accepted just 2,000 so far. To Sylvi Listhaug, the country’s young immigration minister, this might still be a bit too much.

 

‘We have a big challenge now to integrate those with permission to stay in Norway to make sure they respect Norwegian values,’ she says. ‘Freedom to speak, to write, to believe or not to believe in a god, how to raise your children.’ Also, she says, what not to do. For example: ‘It is not allowed to beat your children in Norway.’

It’s unusual for a European government minister to link immigration with child-beating, but the 39-year-old Ms Listhaug is accustomed to speaking plainly. The rest of Europe, she believes, is coming around to the Norwegian position.

After decades in opposition, her Progress Party entered government four years ago, junior partner in a Conservative-run coalition. Her party envisaged the problems of mass migration in the 1980s, she says, so was well ahead of the populist upstarts now haunting so much of Europe. ‘A lot of them are socialist parties but against immigration. We are a libertarian party. We want less government, so people should decide more over their own life. And we want a stricter immigration policy because that’s important for Norway in the long run.’

While Sweden and others saw the migration of 2015 as a blip caused by conflict in Syria and Iraq, she sees it as part of an irreversible demographic trend. ‘Africa is going to gain almost 500 million more people by 2030,’ she says. ‘Much of the Middle East and Africa is fragile. People have difficult lives but can see via mobile phones that life in the West and in Europe is quite different. So I understand why they would like our life, our kind of standards. But it’s not sustainable to integrate so many.’

Why not? Norway, with its oil–generated trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund, is one of the world’s richest countries — and hardly beset by integration issues. This, she says, is because they’ve been careful.

‘Many of the jobs here today perhaps will not be here tomorrow. Working in supermarkets for example — those kind of jobs that don’t need higher education. Those who come to Norway without any education — what are they going to do in the future if this continues?’

This is a big question in Sweden, where a high (but unofficial) minimum wage has served to price immigrants out of the economy. Many of those fleeing war or poverty in Afghanistan or Somalia are denied even a secondary education, let alone a degree, making it especially hard to find work. In cities such as Malmo, police talk about a violent and jobless immigrant underworld and politicians ask if it’s compassionate to leave young Afghan and Somalis in such conditions.

The case for limiting economic migration is clear. But about half of the registered asylum seekers in the EU last year were from countries that were struck by conflict. Can Norway justify taking so few? Ms Listhaug is a practising Christian (albeit sceptical of the ‘thoroughly socialist’ Church of Norway) and says her government’s immigration policy, when combined with its aid policy, is not just a moral response, but the most effective moral response.

‘For me it’s a moral issue as well. You can’t just help the ones you see. You have to think about the millions you don’t see and that have a very difficult life in the world.’  Read More