Like a bird sweeping across the sky
In spite of broken wings,
The sun still brighter
Despite the night,
The sweet smell of lily of the valley
Under a thick blanket of concrete pavement,
Taken out of my chest. . .
Many Palestinians I meet here in Ramallah ask me where my interest in Palestine and the Palestinians comes from. Proudly, I answer that in Norway numerous organizations and political parties are concerned with their situation. Further we have a large Palestinian community of engaged, enlightened people who make sure that we don’t forget what is going on in their home country.
Only a few weeks ago, the Norwegian State Secretary, Espen Barth Eide, spoke to the UN General Assembly. There he announced that Norway is looking forward to welcoming Palestine as a new member state in the UN. He confirmed that the Norwegian position is that the Palestinian people are right in seeking recognition as a state. This is an important statement coming from Norway, a country with a special position when it comes to involvement in Palestine and its relations with Israel. However, I can’t help but wonder how this is in line with the way Palestinian asylum seekers are currently being treated in Norway.
Out of the largest groups of asylum seekers in Norway, Palestinians are the ones who are treated the most abrasively. Denying asylum to Palestinians in Norway has created a group without rights where they are and unable to return from where they came. Many are resourceful persons who had to flee from the West Bank, Gaza or neighboring countries because of problems with the Israeli occupation authorities and settlers or because of disputes with political groups inside Palestine. They have often chosen Norway as their destination because of the positive reputation Norway has in the Middle East and because of the Norwegian support in building Palestinian state institutions.
Earlier, all stateless Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank applying for asylum in Norway would be eligible to stay. It was the belief of the Norwegian authorities that this was required based on the general conditions in the area. This practice is in line with recommendations of the UNHCR. However, Palestinian asylum seekers in Norway are now asked to return to a life marked by occupation, violations of human rights and violence.
Further, even if they wanted to return it would most likely not be possible. The core of the issue is that the Norwegian authorities are not able to return the Palestinians to the occupied territories. They expect the Palestinians to go back voluntarily, but that is impossible when it comes to Gaza and often problematic even for the West Bank. There are many reasons why they are not able to return, including being banned by the Israelis; the risk of going to prison; the fact that what was once their home is now occupied by settlers; and disagreements with powerful political groups within Palestine. There is simply no way for these Palestinians to go back unless it is by illegal means and at their own risk. Hence they are forced to live in Norwegian asylum centers or to work illegally to get by for an indefinite period of time.
Many Palestinians I have met in Norway have been in this situation; unable to return, and not allowed to stay. Application processes for asylum and residence permits can take months and in some cases years. Meanwhile there is not much to do but wait. From what I have been told, that is the worst part, the waiting. And even if the applications are denied the Palestinians can’t return to Palestine, which means that they have to wait even longer.
The Palestinian asylum seekers who were denied permanent stay in Norway can wait for their case to be reconsidered, for something that will change the situation and make it possible for them to stay. As Palestinians everywhere else, however, they are also waiting for something to happen in Palestine - a waiting game that has been going on for more than 60 years.
Nonetheless, this is not going to change overnight, neither is the humanitarian situation in Gaza or the settler violence in the West Bank. When Espen Barth Eide spoke on behalf of Norway at the UN, he called for a change on the ground. As many times before, Norway is advising Palestine and Israel, making lists of demands they should fulfill and condemning the inhumane conditions under which the Palestinians live. Maybe it is about time they start looking at the conditions of Palestinian and other asylum seekers in Norway. Further, it makes no sense to condemn the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and call for changes on the one hand, and to deny Palestinians permanent stay in Norway on the other, thus attempting to send them back to what the Norwegian authorities themselves have deemed an unsustainable situation.