Thousands of people, most of them immigrants with no legal right to be in Norway, are believed to be working in the country under conditions that some experts describe as modern-day slavery.
Newspaper Aftenposten has been running a series of stories describing the lives of many members of the country's new underclass of illegal immigrants. The vast majority sought asylum in Norway, were turned down, but have avoided deportation.
Most are hiding out all over the country, in friends' homes, basements, churches or makeshift shelter. With no legal right to work, and lacking the state tax card necessary to obtain legitimate employment, members of this new underclass are vulnerable to exploitation.
That's because there's a pressing need for labour in Norway, and work abounds. Some employers are as willing to "hire" illegal immigrants at wages well below scale as the immigrants are willing to work.
Among them is "Ziad," a 32-year-old Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He's been living underground in Norway for seven years, ever since his appeal for asylum in Norway was turned down. He sleeps on a mattress on the floor of an Oslo cellar along with six other illegal immigrants in Oslo, and is in constant fear of being seized and deported. Ziad worked long days for a vegetable dealer in Oslo, also from the Middle East, who regularly abused him and paid him small change. But even that helped Ziad eat, since he's constantly desperate for money. The job ended abruptly when the vegetable dealer replaced him with a family member.
Such stories of desperation are repeated from Kristiansand to Tromsø, and have included a couple who even had a baby girl while hiding out. They're constantly worried her crying will attract attention and reveal their location in a small mountain town.
The government minister in charge of immigration and refugee issues in Norway, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen from the Labour Party, believes the answer is for police to continue efforts to round up refugees on the run and deport them to their home countries. Other politicians disagree, and have proposed amnesty programs that would allow new hearings for illegal immigrants or allow many already in the country to stay.
"I am firmly opposed to amnesty," Hanssen told Aftenposten. "It would set our return work several years back, and send out a signal that people can go underground and endure it until they qualify for amnesty."
Hanssen also believes amnesty would make a mockery of the long evaluation process that goes into all asylum cases in Norway. "I have sympathy for these people, but their cases have been evaluated, and the main challenge is to find them so we can send them out of the country," he said.
Source: Aftenposten (English)
See also: Denmark: Employers abuse asylum-seekers