Young, bright and illegal - Monocolumn | Monocle


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31 January 2011

You’d assume that the priority of a nation’s immigration policy should be to extract the largest possible benefit from it. If that were the case, someone who is young, highly educated and speaks the local language fluently should have few problems settling into a country such as Norway.

At 25 years old, Russian-born Maria Amelie has all of these qualifications. The problem is she gained them while living in the country illegally. When she published her autobiography last September, her kind words for the strangers who helped her get so far, despite having no bank account or passport, struck a nerve with readers.

Controversially, the immigration authorities were less impressed: the run-up to her deportation last Monday provoked an outcry in Norway as thousands of people joined demonstrations, vigils and Facebook groups in support of her case.

“She was a well known public figure even before the arrest,” says Sturla Hanssen, a journalist with the newspaper Dagsavisen. “She seemed like someone that would be an asset to society, and not a burden. But few had probably anticipated that the reactions would be so explosive.” The parents of Maria Amelie sought political asylum in Norway nine years ago, allegedly fleeing debts to the tune of millions of dollars owed to the Ossetian mafia. When their application was rejected, they decided, like many others, to stay on anyway and live a life without any official papers. In openly supporting the controversial eviction, the Norwegian government might want to avoid appearing weak in front of the largest opposition party, the far-right Progress Party. “The Norwegian political elite competes on promising the fewest possible immigrants,” says Frank Meyer, a professor in the Faculty of Social Science at the Oslo University College, who has argued for the introduction of a point-based immigration system adopted in countries such as Canada and Denmark.

Few doubt that the deportation is procedurally correct, but should not higher education, fluent language and a clear wish to integrate constitute a good enough reason to be allowed to stay?

“The problem with this line of reasoning is that it means saying those who are easy to integrate should more easily be given asylum. It means dividing the asylum system in two – one for the resourceful and well adapted, who can stay, and another for the rest, who need to go home”, says MP Hadia Tajik from the governing Labour party, one of two parliamentarians in Norway who come from an immigrant background. However, a tweaking of the law that will allow Maria to return to the country on a work permit is still said to be in the works. In that case she might still consider herself well rewarded for taking her case to the public.


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