Norway populists win new immigration ministry

Norway’s Prime Minister has appointed a politician from the populist Progress Party as the country’s first ever Immigration Minister, as her government seeks to bring in an ever-tougher asylum policy.

Norway populists win new immigration ministry
Sylvi Listhaug takes over the Immigration role at the Ministry of Justice. Photo: Haakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix
In a cabinet reshuffle announced on Wednesday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg appointed Sylvi Listhaug, the country’s former agriculture minister, to the new post. 
“Our society is not sustainable if too many people are living on public payouts rather than paying in,” Listhaug said after her appointment. “We must bring down the number coming into Norway.” 
“This is about our ability to integrate those who come. If the number flowing into Norway is extremely big, that means it will also be hard to integrate them.” 
An estimated 35,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Norway in 2015, a record for the country, but still a fraction of the 150,000 who have arrived in neighbouring Sweden. 
Listhaug, a Christian, made headlines last month when she appeared to suggest that Jesus Christ would have supported the Progress Party's tough stance on asylum seekers, drawing the condemnation of the leading bishop in the Church of Norway. 
“What Jesus cared about is you should help as many people as possible — and that’s not as many as possible in Norway,” she said in an interview with Norway's state broadcaster NRK. 
In another controversial move, she appointed Per Sandberg, Progress’s outspoken deputy leader as Fisheries Minister, bringing the man, who is widely seen as a loose canon, into the government for the first time. 
Sandberg’s combative style and harsh rhetoric on immigration and Islam has been a frequent source of conflict since Progress formed Norway’s coalition government in 2013. 
He has caused particular difficulties for the Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats, the two minority parties which support the government but are not part of the coalition. 
“He has been the source of some conflict, and he has had some initiatives that we think have been hair-raising,” Knut Hareide,  the Christian Democrats’ leader told VG after his appointment. “Now he goes into government, he will probably play a different role.” 
However, Sandberg vowed not to let his ministerial role muzzle him.
“I think nobody should expect me to put a lid on what is Progress policy,” he said. 


Swedish Migration Agency boss admits confusing ‘patchwork’ of rules

Mikael Ribbenvik, the outgoing Director General of the Swedish Migration Agency, has acknowledged that Sweden's migration rules are a messy "patchwork", saying that he understands why applicants are confused.

Swedish Migration Agency boss admits confusing 'patchwork' of rules

In an interview with the Sydsvenskan newspaper, Ribbenvik, who will end his 24-year career at the Migration Agency in May, complained that migration legislation had become ever more complicated and confusing over the past decade as a result of a series of coalition governments where different parties have “sought to cram in all their pet issues”. 

Since the refugee crisis in 2015, there has been the temporary migration law from 2016, which made temporary residency the default for asylum seekers, and then the two ‘gymnasium laws’, which he described as “half-amnesties”. 

The two laws opened the way for people who had come to Sweden as unaccompanied child asylum seekers and whose asylum application had been rejected to stay if they finished upper secondary school and got a job. 

Now, Ribbenvik worried, a new barrage of new laws from the three-party right wing government and their far-right backers, the Sweden Democrats, risked making the system even more complicated. 

“The legislation is starting to become too complicated for anyone to understand. It’s absolutely impossible to explain in the media, because you don’t have the time,” he told the newspaper. “We need to have our absolutely smartest migration people in our legal unit to work everything out.” 

When the new government announced its intention to phase out permanent residency, the agency’s phones were deluged with worried calls from permanent residency holders. 

Ribbenvik summarised the message to Sydsvenskan as: “OK, you can stay… no, you can’t stay.”

“I have a great amount of understanding for the confusion this has caused,” he said. “Debate articles attack the Migration Agency, and we’re an easy target. But this is a consequence of the legislation there has been in recent years.” 

After Sweden’s government announced that Ribbenvik’s contract was not going to be extended, Björn Söder, a Sweden Democrat MP and member of the parliament’s defence committee, celebrated the decision. 

“Time to tidy up Agency Sweden,” Söder wrote on Twitter. “Kick the asylum activists out of the agency.”

In the Sydsvenskan interview, Ribbenvik characterised himself as a “proud bureaucrat”, who was apolitical and saw his role as enacting the orders of politicians in the best way possible. He didn’t join the agency because of a passion for immigration issues, but because he needed a part-time job while he finished his law degree, he said. 

“I read now that I’m a Director-General appointed by the Social Democrats. So am I going to be politicised now, right at the end? Because I never have been before.” 

Very often, he said, attacks like Söder’s “say nothing about the accused, but a lot about the accuser”. 

He did say, however, tell the newspaper that he had been surprised by how quickly the debate had shifted in Sweden from the days when most of the criticism the agency received came from those wanting more liberal treatment for asylum seekers to today, when they are accused of being too lenient. 

“As someone who’s worked here for 24 years, I’m stunned over how the debate has shifted in recent months, when the whole time I’ve been here, it’s been the opposite: ‘why do you analyse people’s language, why do you do age assessments?’. We’ve always been criticised from the other direction.”