SVALBARD A HAVEN FOR DOMESTIC ABUSERS? Report says foreign woman have few options due to exemptions from mainland social programs, leaving them in violent relationships

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“Jasmin” is a foreigner who moved with her children from Asia to Longyearbyen several years ago to live with her Norwegian husband – but the relationship turned into one where she alleges she has long been abused by him. But because many of Norway’s social programs and the Immigration Act don’t apply to Svalbard, she’s essentially being told the only effective solution is to return to her homeland.

Her story, first reported Monday by NRK (in English via Google Translate*), is one of multiple instances of women in the archipelago who are in abusive relationships with few means of support or escape, according to the Crisis Center for the Troms region, the closest agency dealing with domestic violence matters to Longyearbyen.

“I think this is completely unreasonable,” Hanne Stenvaag, head of the crisis center, told NRK. “There is a risk that Svalbard may appear as a refuge for perpetrators if you do nothing about this.”

Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt told the news agency she sees no indication anything of the sort is happening and “it is of course not a situation we want to get into.”

NRK’s story, which quickly caught the attention of the other Norwegian media, is a somewhat surprising exposure because Svalbard typically has extremely few reported crimes of domestic violence. But with the foreign population and tourism booming during the past decade, many “almost unknown” crimes such as shoplifting, vandalism, polluting and others have become increasingly common.

“Jasmin” told NRK she does not want to return to her homeland because “there is a lot of violence there and I can not guarantee the safety of my children.”

As a foreigner on the mainland she could apply for a residence permit on an independent basis due to being subject to violence. But her attorney, Beate Arntzen, told NRK that and other rights don’t apply in Svalbard even though it is under Norwegian sovereignty.

“On the mainland, foreign women will have the right to assistance from the crisis center, from the police and from a lawyer,” she said, adding “They are told to have to return if they seek help after being abused.”

A criminal investigation is in progress against her husband, who told NRK he does not recognize himself in the accusations.

Svalbard is exempt from many of Norway’s social laws and programs due to the archipelago’s vastly lower income tax rates and the absence of the mainland’s 25 percent value-added tax. Those exemptions, for example, have resulted in extreme hardships for many foreigners during the COVID-19 pandemic during the past year because they are ineligible for various unemployment/insurance/grant funding.

* It must be emphasized Google Translate is often imprecise and therefore the English text in the link should be considered a general overview only, especially as it deals with legal issues.