Lawmakers slam decision by city in southern Norway to only take in Ukrainian refugees and not others

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Lawmakers in Norway have slammed a decision this week by the local council in a southern city to only take in Ukrainian refugees and not others, claiming they will be easier to integrate in the society.

The government and the opposition have also said they consider the decision by the council in Drammen to be in violation of Norwegian laws. Up to a third of the population of Drammen are immigrant or have an immigrant background.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who heads a center-left government, condemned Tuesday’s decision by Drammen and said that Norway’s 357 municipalities cannot decide for themselves which refugees they accept — only how many they can take in.

Such a decision is “not legal,” said Gahr Støre.

The local county governor’s office has asked the municipality’s head to explain Drammen’s statement by Feb. 28 after which a final decision will be made.

On Tuesday evening, the right-leaning local municipal council in Drammen, southwest of the capital of Oslo, decided in a 29-28 vote to only accept Ukrainian refugees.

“We are fully aware that we are challenging current practice and we are testing some limits for what we as municipal politicians have the opportunity to influence,” the statement from the council said, according to the Norwegian newspaper VG wrote.

Simon Nordanger, from the opposition Center party, reported the decision to police on Wednesday, alleging it violates the law and the constitution.

“How can you treat people and open up to sorting people that way,” Nordanger told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

On the Drammen council’s Facebook page, some of the comments called the decision racist.

Figures provided by the city said there were some 103,000 inhabitants in Drammen municipality in 2023. Of those, nearly a third — roughly 31,000 — are either immigrants or are Norwegian-born citizens of immigrant parents.

The agency Norway Statistics said they are mainly Poles, Lithuanians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Somalis. The Scandinavian country of 5.5 million people has since 2022 given shelter to 70,800 Ukrainians, according to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.

In 2023, there were 877,227 migrants in Norway, mainly from Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, Somalia and Germany, according to official statistics.

NATO-member Norway has supported Ukraine, sending F-16 fighter jets for its defense against the Russian invasion. Last February, the oil-rich Scandinavian country announced it was donating 75 billion kroner ($7 billion) to Kyiv as part of a five-year support package, making Norway one of the world’s biggest donors to Ukraine.

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