‘No One Is Illegal’ Campaign aims to protect Norway’s ‘paperless’ refugees

Ethiopian refugee woman in Oslo
Alem, 15 years in Norway. Image: Grete Bro Thuestad, photography exhibition Ureturnerbar

Regularizations in Europe

“The majority of European countries use or have used some sort of regularization measure, mostly for humanitarian reasons but also to regulate the labor market,” said Albert Kraler, Research Officer at the International Center for Migration Policy Development.

Regularizations are government procedures that grant illegally residing non-nationals a legal status.

In a 2009 report on regularizations in Europe, Kraler estimates that a minimum of 3.5 million ‘paperless’ people have gained legal status in EU between 1996 and 2008.

“Unfortunately the government fails to listen to those who have the experiences. They need to understand; people do not live illegally somewhere for 10 to 15 years for no reason.” – Kenna, Ethiopian ethnic minority, ‘undocumented’ worker in Oslo

In 2006, Norway’s neighboring country, Sweden, provided legal status for 17,000 asylum seekers who had claims that were initially rejected. About 578,375 irregular migrants living in Spain were also granted legal status in 2005.

When challenged to give an opinion on Norwegian policies, Adam Kraler outlines, “Regularization is a flexible tool that can take both the interest of the state and the interest of the individual into consideration.”

“After 5 years in a country it is clear that a person will not leave immediately,” continued Kraler. “(It’s) Then this person needs some security and rights.”

“And if a child has been brought up in a country, is it for the best of the child to be forcibly removed?”

No One is Illegal Campaign

In 2008, data research group, Statistics Norway (SSB) estimated that 18,136 out of Norway’s almost five million inhabitants are undocumented immigrants. Although the exact number is not available, many undocumented immigrants are women. 1,344 of undocumented immigrants in 2008 were children.

The Norway based, ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign, launched by a wide partnership of human rights groups inside the country, is driving actions now to help undocumented immigrant women, and their families find asylum.

According to ‘No One Is Illegal’ some undocumented immigrants have lived as long as 17 years in Norway without access to basic rights, as are often subjected to suffering and exploitation.

The campaign aims to establish a legal limit on the number of years a person can be classified as ‘illegal’ in Norway. Along with this, the campaign is working to help secure an automatic permit allowance for children and their families who have lived in Norway for a minimum of four years. Director Kari Helene Partapuoli, of The Norwegian Center against Racism and Discrimination, believes this legislation is achievable.

— excerpt from WNN interview with Kenna, Ethiopian refugee, Oslo —

WNN: You have learned Norwegian and managed to find work. What gives you strength?

Kenna: The people around me are my support. I receive encouraging words from them every day.

WNN: How can people support your case?

Kenna: Through media and Facebook, by increasing the pressure on the government’s understanding.

“Norway does not like to be criticized for violating human rights,” shares Partapuoli, referring to the obligations following the country’s commitment to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We face resistance to our objective, but due to support from individual politicians we believe policy changes can be made.”

Threatened by Indifference

Representative for the Liberal Party, Helge Solum Larsen, claimed that Norwegian policies can be changed through advocacy. “The parties supporting change will need to continue our internal work and see how far we can go to convince other parties,” said Larsen. “Politicians need to hear from the people. Every voice is needed; indifference is what kills our society’s core values.”

“We have not received any signals from the ministry (of Norway) that they (will) consider regularizations,” UDI – Norwegian Directorate of Immigration Deputy Director General, Frode Forfang, said recently.

“A society is often judged by how it treats its most fragile,” said the Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation in a recent November 2010 release. “People living in Norway without rights year after year are undeniably part of this group.”

“Thus, it is pleasing that the Norwegian Parliament finally act? on the case of the ‘paperless,’” continued the Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation release in its plea for fair treatment for all asylum seekers in Norway.

On November 30, Norway’s Parliament hosted its first open hearing on the issue of ‘paperless’ people in the country. What will come from this hearing will tell the world whether indifference can be replaced with action.

This 48 second PSA, a 2009 production by The Norwegian Refugee Council, clearly depicts the struggle in war and conflict that many women refugees, and their families, face before they leave their home region to seek asylum in Norway. The battle to give extended rights to asylum seekers, who face clear danger if they are forced to return home, is still being discussed actively, and sometimes emotionally, in Norwegian public citizen circles. The issue on ‘paperless’ people is yet to be decided by The Parliament in Norway.


For More Information on this Topic:



  • Irregular Migration,” The International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD).




WNN correspondent in Oslo, Norway, Synne Hall Arnøy, is a human rights journalist focusing on social justice issues. She also works as a graduate teacher of social science and languages with a degree in Development Studies from Oslo University College.

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