MORTENSRUD, Norway — Lise and Kjetil Ulvestrand came to this town south of Oslo in 2005 for the space, the views, the forest and the cheaper rents. Ms. Ulvestrand, a former development worker in Latin America and a social worker with Norway’s immigrants, says she is comfortable around foreigners and different cultures.
But as the number of immigrants, including Muslims, gradually increased in Mortensrud, she began to worry about her children and their education.
“I loved the forest and had friends, but ethnic Norwegians were moving out, so my children were losing friends,” she said. “After a while we discovered that when kids were 5 or 6, everyone moved out. We wanted a stable environment, and we had some questions about the social challenges at the school,” where the number of people who are not ethnic Norwegians was growing rapidly.
So the Ulvestrands decided last summer to move back into comfortable west Oslo, where she grew up. “I felt a bit guilty about moving, having worked in Latin America with minorities and defending their rights,” she said. “It wasn’t just ethnic Norwegians, it was anyone with resources moved out.”
Their concerns about immigration and perceptions that Islam is challenging prevailing national values are widely shared, both among some Norwegians on the left of the political spectrum, and among many on the right, who in September put the Conservative Party into office after eight years of government by Labor Party-led leftist coalitions.
In a nation that has long prided itself on its liberal sensibilities, the intensifying debate about immigration and its effects on national identity and the country’s social welfare system has been jarring — and has been focused on the anti-immigration Progress Party, which is part of the new Conservative-led government.
Asked about national values, Mr. Solvik-Olsen instead spoke of the kind of discomfort that the Ulvestrands felt here. “Some people feel they’re waking up one morning and their old neighborhood is gone,” he said. “Strangers move in and people don’t even understand what they’re saying; we have a generous welfare system, and you feel a stranger in your own neighborhood.” (...)