As debates over the plight of unaccompanied migrants to the European Union (EU) intensifies, a new report from Norway reveals that the town of Alta in Norway has become home to hundreds of unaccompanied migrants seeking asylum from conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Syria.
According to some statistics, an estimated 5,300 unaccompanied migrants sought asylum in the country, putting pressure on the Norwegian government to provide them with shelter and other necessary facilities.
While questions still remain on the future of the migrants, the Norwegian government has taken a number of initiatives to address the issues facing them. Among the initiatives is induction courses on how to live in Norway and language lessons.
It is reported that up to 40 migrants between the ages of 15 and 18 are now living in the town of Alta.
But there are some concerns that facilities provided to the Syrian refugees aren’t available to the Afghan migrants. For instance, the Syrians are getting an education while the Afghan education begins with simple tasks such as learning to shower or to use a western toilet.
Although, Europe-wide statistics for 2015 will not be available until the spring season, national figures cited the proportion of unaccompanied minors among asylum seekers has risen.
The trend was particularly noticeable in Norway and Sweden, where about one in five asylum-seekers was a minor traveling alone, up from one in 10 the year before.
Elyas, 17, is one of the unaccompanied migrants. He said him and his brother were taken to Russia by a powerful man in his village, who promised them work so that they could send money to their parents.
“For poor people, when they see a little goodness in life, they quickly accept that,” he said from the former hotel where they now live.
“In Russia, we didn’t do anything… only work. From 4 o’clock in the morning up to 8 o’clock at night.”
After their bad experience in Russia, last fall they heard that the Norwegian border was open, they wanted to go, but they had no money to leave Russia and move to Norway.
Elyas said they stole about $1,000 USD for tickets to Norway.
After a brief stay in a border camp, Elyas was transferred to the Alta shelter. Because his brother is 18, he was taken to an ordinary refugee shelter.
Elyas, whose case is still being processed by Norwegian immigration authorities, worries about being sent back to Russia, but most of all he worries about his parents.
He said what he doesn’t want to think about is that his parents might have been punished after they escaped in Russia.
“We are just worried now about our family. Where are they? Are they alive or not?”
Meanwhile, Elyas’s legal guardian has said on condition of anonymity that the boy is one of tens of thousands of Afghan teenagers who showed up on Europe’s doorstep last year, in perhaps the most unexpected and challenging aspect of the migrant crisis.
Statistics show that up to 20,000 young Afghan migrants reached Sweden in a matter of weeks, equaling the number of unaccompanied minors that applied for asylum in all of Europe the year before.
“This is very difficult,” says 15-year-old Abdul Kabir from Afghanistan as he narrates his journey. “We are all young boys, 15, 16. Some are sick, some have problems.”
Kabir’s uncle paid smugglers to take him to Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria. He says he was detained by police, beaten by smugglers, and now yearns for his family.
“Smugglers come and kick us every time. And when we want water, they say they don’t have water ‘go fast, fast’,” he explains.
Meanwhile, an official at the Alta migration center has said that the Norwegian government has established a camp for these migrants to help them learn local activities and make sure they integrate into western society.
“The camp for the minors here in Alta is fairly new, so we just started one of the most important things about integration and that is connecting them to local activities, teams playing football and handball and other activities with the local youth,” head of Alta migration center said.
Analysts are still trying to work out why the Afghan numbers soared so suddenly in the fall.
Most cite a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties of the war rose to record levels for the seventh year in a row in 2015, according to the United Nations.