In 2009, The Norwegian Centre for Migration and Minority Health completed a study of undocumented migrants and their living conditions. The aim of the project was to shed light on the correlation between illegal residence in Norway, self-perceived health and access to and use of the health services.
According to the Patients' Rights Act, all persons residing in Norway are entitled to help in the case of illness if they have indefinite leave to remain or are resident in Norway and are members of the National Insurance Scheme. Those who are in the country illegally are only entitled to help in the case of acute illness and only to the assistance necessary to ensure they do not suffer distress.
The study was conducted in the Oslo area and was based on the narratives of two groups of informants. One group comprised health care personnel who had been in contact with undocumented immigrants while the other group comprised immigrants without a residence permit. The following narrative is based on the experiences of the latter group.
It was difficult to find informants among the immigrants. However, the Centre for Migration and Minority Health established contact with 15 people, nine of whom were men and six were women. Most were aged 20−40 years (8), single (10) and from Africa (9). The interviewers were experienced researchers or professionals with a background in health care. The Centre stressed that informed consent must be given, and the information understood. Informants should also be informed about their rights, including their right to withdraw from the study if they so wished, also after the interviews. The informants were promised confidentiality and full anonymity. None of the 15 wanted to withdraw from the study at any time and maintained afterwards that they appreciated being listened to.
The narratives of the 15 migrants showed among other things that they came in contact with health personnel at a very late stage because they were frightened of being reported. They were not aware of health personnel's duty of confidentiality, or they did not trust it. None of those interviewed would name other migrants without a residence permit.
One day one of the researchers received a phone call from a woman she had interviewed. The woman was deeply unhappy and frightened. She said that she was living in hiding at the home of a male relative. He had beaten her up, possibly because he believed she had betrayed him and his hiding place. The woman said she was so frightened that she had gone to the police. The duty officer did not understand that this was a person without a legal residence permit and he referred the severely beaten woman to the out-of-hours emergency service. She was turned away there because she did not have a personal identity number. She returned to her relative's habitation because she knew he was not there. However, she did not dare remain there because she feared for her life. She then contacted the researcher to tell her of her fears. The researcher felt she had no other choice than to take her to a crisis centre. She was allowed to stay there overnight, albeit with reservations. However, when the management at the centre were briefed the following morning, she was asked to leave. The centre could not allow her to stay because she was in the country on an illegal basis.
The researcher's dilemma: What is the extent of the researcher's responsibility? What does the researcher do with a severely beaten and deeply unhappy individual who asks for help and who clearly believes that the researcher can provide this? The researcher has cultivated this trust and has used it for the purposes of research. If Norwegian law and the statutory duty to report violence in domestic relations were followed in this case, the researcher would have accompanied the immigrant to the police, and the person who had beaten her would have been reported. The police would probably have listened more readily to the researcher than the migrant. Nevertheless, the complaint would have revoked the researcher's duty of confidentiality and the abused woman's anonymity. It is likely that she would have been deported.