On May 24 a group of 100 Afghani refugees launched a hunger strike, which has resonated throughout the country, and posed some very difficult and embarrassing questions for the left Norwegian coalition government. The debate has gained momentum in the media provoking responses from every wing of the political spectrum.
The issue in contention involves the legitimacy of deporting Afghani refugees with unsuccessful asylum applications back to Kabul. On the official side, the message has varied between condemning ‘hunger strikes’ as invalid means to make a political point, and so talking away the real issue, to pledging a reassessment of applications, to announcing along with the parade of authority that unless the protest is ended police will be deployed and force used.
On the other side are the Afghani refugees, demanding a withdrawal of the deportation agreement with Afghanistan - claiming the country is simply not safe and does not qualify for any of the UNHCR’s recommendations laid down as necessary for forced deportations to accord with any sense of humanitarian conventions.
At the moment the only city in Afghanistan deemed safe by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is Kabul, according to the UNHCR’s recommendations this should mean that only refugees with a social and/or kinship network in Kabul can legitimately and humanitarianly be returned there to.
Yet, one of the main arguments running through this debate has been the government’s intention of deporting Afghani refugees to Kabul, regardless of any link to the city and depending on the formal assurance of their safety given by a struggling institution (The UNHCR) in a war torn city.
Yesterday (June 20) at a press conference the ‘Finance Minister’ Kristin Halvorsen (Socialist-Left Party), and ‘Labor and Inclusion Minister’ Bjarne-Haakon Hansen (Labour Party), announced a postponement in the program of forced deportations until the beginning of next year. Asylum policy will now temporarily regroup and align itself with the UNHCR’s recommendations.
Later on yesterday, at 10:30pm, the hunger strike was ended. Although the objective of challenging and reforming the government’s assessment of Kabul as safe was not attained, a temporary amnesty on forced deportations and the echo of solidarity has been an important interruption to summertime.
If this were a debate involving a country in which Norway had no military involvement the balance would be different, although such comparisons cannot legitimately be made, in this instance it is worth noting Norway’s cooperation in the bombing of Afghanistan under American military directives. To waver any moral responsibility or solidarity with people who have resorted to leaving their country due to the destruction caused by western military intervention is beyond justification.
The progress achieved under this protest has shaken the very foundations of Norwegian society, the image of the philanthropic Norwegian state has been cast in a critical light and this has revealed that prejudice is fermenting here too.
Norway’s participation in imperialist plunder goes hand in hand with growing racism. Behind the mask of “liberalism” hides the real face of Norwegian capitalism. It is no different from any other capitalism.
June 21, 2006