The Church Council, the highest body of the Church of Norway, has lashed out against plans to tighten asylum rules.
According to a recent bill, in the event of increased arrivals, asylum seekers who are not refugees under the Refugee Convention, but need protection for other reasons, will no longer receive refugee status in Norway.
The proposal means that it will take longer to obtain a permanent residence permit. It also means that more people will be eligible for repatriation once their personal situation or situation in their home country improves. Yet another consequence is that the people in question will not be entitled to family immigration until after two years of residence in Norway.
The Church of Norway stressed that the bill effectively eradicates the subsidiary basis in emergency situations. It also emphasised that Norway is one of the few countries in Europe that gives the right to protection on a subsidiary basis. In other words, today's Norwegian asylum policy is more generous than most others on the continent.
"In the Church Council's opinion, the special rights that stem from the Norwegian practice are something the Norwegian people and Norwegian legislators should be proud of and build on, also in meetings with other countries in the world and in particular in a European context", the Church Council said, as quoted by the news outlet Resett.
The national-conservative Progress Party, which used to be a government sidekick of the Conservatives until they fell out with each other, wants to go even further by making it impossible to obtain a residence permit by applying for asylum in Norway. According to the party's leadership, this will "put an end to drowning accidents and illegal traffic across the Mediterranean on which human traffickers make a lot of money", the newspaper Nettavisen reported.
In the words of Jon Helgheim of the Progress Party, "the only thing the Refugee Convention says is that you have the right to apply for asylum. It says nothing about where you should have the right to be when you wait for the decision, and it says nothing about the outcome".
Norway's immigrant population has been growing by the year despite a series of tighter rules since the migrant crisis of 2015 that caught the country unawares. As of today, there are close to 800,000 immigrants in a country of 5.4 million, or roughly 15 percent of the population.
The Church of Norway is an evangelical Lutheran denomination of Protestant Christianity and by far the largest Christian church in Norway, embracing just under 70 percent of the population. The modern Constitution of Norway describes the church as the country's "people's church" and formally requires the King of Norway to be a member.
However, in recent decades, the church has been leaking worshippers, much like its Scandinavian cousins. This is often attributed to society becoming increasingly secular and the church's liberal stance on social issues, including immigration and environmental rights driving away more conservative worshippers. For instance, the Church of Norway supported climate strikes by schoolchildren demanding more forceful environmental action, which many found unbecoming.