A Response to Bob Geldof’s Criticism of Norway

This week, Bob Geldof described the Norwegian Government’s response to the Syrian refuge crisis as “nonsense”.

Mr Geldof, who has spent the summer this year in Norway, told the Norwegian state broadcaster, NRK: “you have an area larger than the UK, and you take 8,000 refugees.  It is 0.0016 per cent of the population.”  His comments have been widely reported.

Clarity Required

Mr Geldof’s comments highlight the need for clarity and detailed analysis when it comes to assessing how Europe should respond to the complex humanitarian crisis and how many migrants each European country should absorb: European leaders meet this week in Brussels to discuss Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War Two.


Although it is accurate that Norway is larger in area than the UK (Norway has 307,860 sq. km and the UK has 241,590 sq. km), this statistic is clearly overly simplistic. Large parts of Norway are uninhabitable. In fact, it is said that 70% of the country cannot be settled due to mountains, glaciers, moors and rivers. Despite suggestions that refugees could be sent to Svalbard (surely not serious, not least for the requirement to arm all who go), Mr Geldof’s analysis based on size is too simplistic and should not be used to apportion blame on a state.


Assessing what numbers of refugees a country should absorb against the percentage of its population clearly negates the risk associated with an area test, as the populous will already be established. However, it is necessary when undertaking this analysis to get the figures right.

In June 2015, the Norwegian Government announced plans to permit 8,000 Syrian refugees into Norway by 2017.  The latest population estimates for Norway are 5 million.  The incoming 8,000 Syrian refugees then equates to 0.16% of the Norwegian population not the 0.0016% as Mr Geldof claims.

Contrast this to the position of the UK, whose Government announced in September 2015, plans to permit 20,000 Syrian refugees into the UK by 2020, equating to 0.031% of the UK’s population of 63 million.

The percentage of its population that the UK is prepared to accept is therefore much lower than that of the Norwegians.  Presumably, Mr Geldof is furious.

This article does not attempt to ascertain what the correct response to the Syrian refugee crisis is and nothing in it is intended to criticise Mr Geldof whose intentions were no doubt noble.  It merely tries to demonstrate that accurate and detailed analysis is required to solve one of Europe’s most complicated problems since 1945.

Photo credit: Zero Emission Resource Organisation

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About the Author: Jolyon Smith

Jolyon Smith is 26, and has had the benefit of having his Norwegian girlfriend for over a year now.  They are currently planning a trip to Finnmark in the North of Norway over Easter to visit her family.  He will be taking his own tea bags.


  1. I am an Englishman living in Norway.
    The facts are the UK has 265 people per sq.km
    Norway has 13…. it’s a reason I moved here.
    But this article is correct, each country can take the same vetted amount of 0,2%
    They must (like I do) live by Norwegian rules

  2. I have never heard something intersting out of the mouth of this Geldof.
    Never trying to solve a problem, only looking for publicity.
    Sent this guy to Syria, they will listen to him!

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