The decision to deport Madina Salamova, 25, has sparked a nationwide debate about Norway’s immigration laws, triggered public protests, and put the country’s centre-left government on the defensive.
The girl, who is better known under her literary pseudonym ‘Maria Amelie’, moved to Norway in 2003 with her parents after neighbouring Finland rejected their asylum claim.
Norway rejected their claim too but the family somehow evaded deportation and, despite having no papers or even a bank account, Miss Salamova then integrated into Norwegian society in a way that impressed many ordinary Norwegians.
She mastered Norwegian, took cleaning jobs for cash, got a degree, found herself a Norwegian boyfriend, and last year published a book about her life as an illegal immigrant to considerable acclaim.
Weekly news magazine Ny Tid crowned her “Norwegian of the Year” in 2010, saying she had enriched public discourse.
But her increasingly public profile appears to have caught the authorities’ attention.
Eight immigration officers arrested her last Wednesday and bundled her into the back of a van for deportation to Russia. Her parents, who come from the unstable Russian republic of North Ossetia, remain in hiding.
A court on Monday freed Miss Salamova from a detention centre, pending her deportation which is supposed to take place within two weeks unless she wins a reprieve.
Miss Salamova, speaking to the Dagsavisen newspaper, said she was “afraid for my own life.”
“I have no connection to Russia and I speak more Norwegian that Russian,” she said.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian prime minister, has acknowledged that many people feel strongly about the girl’s case but said no exceptions can be made.
“We must handle individuals equally and not give them special treatment just because somebody receives a lot of attention,” he told Norwegian media. “If we bend the rules for one person, we will then get thousands of refugees lodging baseless applications for asylum. Nobody wants that.”