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Norwegian city causes uproar after it votes to only accept Ukrainian refugees

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Norwegian city causes uproar after it votes to only accept Ukrainian refugees
The local council in Drammen has voted to only accept Ukrainian refugees, something which has caused uproar. Pictured is the Norwegian city of Drammen. Photo by Magne Roed on Unsplash

Drammen's municipal council has voted against accepting refugees from any country other than Ukraine, something which leading politicians, including the country's PM, condemned on Wednesday.

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The municipal council in Drammen, a 40-minute drive from Oslo, voted to adopt its controversial policy of only accepting refugees from Ukraine on Tuesday. 

A majority of 29 to 28 in the municipal council, which is led by a bloc of the Conservative Party (H), the populist and anti-immigration Progress Party (Frp), Christian Democrats (KrF) and the Pensioners Party, voted in favour of the proposal. 

Norway's government has said that the city can't pick and choose which refugees it accepts. 

"This is not something municipalities can do," he told public broadcaster NRK. "A fundamental value is to ensure that people who are fleeing are treated equally."

Erna Solberg, leader of the opposition Conservative party to which the mayor of Drammen also belongs, echoed his remarks.

"No municipality can decide that it will only accept refugees from a certain country" even if it was "not unusual" to have preferences, she told newswire NTB.

Tonje Brenna, Employment and Inclusion Minister, said that local and national government needed to work together. 

"The municipalities cannot make demands on the refugees' nationality or family situation. The municipalities and the state must work together to get everyone who gets legal residence in Norway settled," Employment and Inclusion Minister Tonje Brenna told NRK

The council in the city of around 120,000 people has also said it will accept a significantly lower number of refugees than first proposed. 

Initially, the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) had proposed the city accept 340 refugees this year. The city council, however, has said there is only room for 125. 

Parties opposed to the policy have said that the issue will be taken to the State Administrator, and those against the policy believe it will be blocked for being illegal.  

"I think they will be told by the State Administrator that this decision is illegal and that the matter must come back to the municipal council," Eivind Knudsen, a councillor for the Labour Party (Ap), told NRK

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"But the damage has already been done because this was a battle for Drammen's soul. What kind of municipality do we want to be? And the majority in the municipal council says we should be narrower and less inclusive," he added. 

In a statement, the municipal attorney has said that the decision wasn't legal as it was discriminatory, the discrimination wasn't legal and is therefore contrary to both national and international asylum rules. 

In its justification for the proposal, the city council said that Ukrainian refugees would be easier to integrate.

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"With the high proportion of non-western immigrants that Drammen already has, it will be a barrier to integration to settle even more people with a non-western background. This is because the resources must be used to solve the integration challenges we already have with this group before more are added," the proposal stated. 

Drammen is one of the country's most multicultural cities, according to figures from the national data agency Statistics Norway. Around 30 percent of its residents were born abroad or to two foreign-born residents in Norway

Last year, Norway accepted a record number of refugees. More than 33,000 refugees were resettled across the country. Of those, more than 29,000 arrived in Norway from Ukraine under the temporary collective protection rules. 

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