The worldwide refugee crisis is one of the most important issues and one of the biggest stories in contemporary society. The way receiving countries treat migrants is a matter of concern for many citizens, particularly in the Eurozone, but many of the stories of how individual countries treat their migrant communities are often hidden. In 2015 we, (Friction Arts) traveled to Vadsoe, Finnmark, in the far north of Norway and above the Arctic Circle. There we met a friend who is a worker in the reception centre in this small, remote town. The town has housed hundreds of refugees in recent years, and is one of the main reception areas for arriving migrants. Whilst we were there the atmosphere was hopeful, though not without issues for many of the migrants and townsfolk. We met a number of very recently arrived Syrian refugees – one young man told us a story about what kept him going as they faced danger and an uncertain future through the crossing – reading Jane Eyre.
So we’ve kept connected, are sending donated books to them and fundraising towards improving their cultural lives, as we believed the Norwegian government were looking after their basic needs. Until today. Today we received the email (unedited) below from our reception centre worker friend:
When I woke up today, it was to the news that about 40 of my refugees have disappeared. At the very end of the European mainland, they have vanished, gone under-ground. Hiding from the police, looking for a plan B. I have my radio on while I eat my breakfast. My boss’ voice is there, telling every Norwegian whom wishes to hear, that people who thought they had found safety, is once again fleeing. From my Norway. From my safe haven.
I have felt this aching in my belly for a while now, and this is just one of the days it grows stronger. It feels like we are on the verge of a tipping point. Like something massive is about to explode. It feels like the way we are acting in the next few days or weeks will be something that Norway will remember for generations to come. How we will remember, is still uncertain to me, but I know there will be no pride.
In the last few days, about 200 refugees from reception centers across Finnmark, our most Northern County, has been shipped to the Russian border by armed police. There they are being detained in the so-called Vest Camp, an old military base, waiting to be deported. Single men, families, old, women. This is just the beginning, they say. About 5000 will follow. We are yelling at our government, asking who they are, the people who no longer are welcome to seek help. From Oslo there is nothing more than foggy talk and avoidance of questions. They are saying that these people have permission to stay in Russia. What does that mean, we ask. What is the definition of “Permission to stay”?
Well, as the juridical secretary of state says, “permission to stay” can be equal to “a tree-day transit visa”. A tree-day transit visa! And after that? We trust the Russians to respect human rights now? We trust them not to further export them to Syria, their ally and their friend? It leaves me dumbfounded to think that we are using Russia as an alibi, to cover up the consequences of a large-scale deportation that tastes of world war two.
Just before Christmas 30 fully armed police came to Vadsoe. They went from building to building, waking people up, before leaving by bus with 42 of my people. They drove them to the Russian border, gave them each a bike, and told them to cycle back across the border. Since that, they have been left stranded in the train station in the city of Murmansk. A place with -30 freezing centigrade this time of year. No money, no plan, no guarantee that their case will be considered by no nation. The day before yesterday, one refugee froze to death by the border. This does not seem to change a thing.
Shortly after this, the government suggested passing a law to legalize sending all refugees who have crossed the border from Russia back without considering their cases according to reality. Furthermore, they wish to make it illegal for refugees to complain about the outcome of their cases if they are so lucky to have them considered. Inequality for the law put into system. This suggestion is still not been discussed in the parliament, but the minister of Justice have made it a guideline for practice in the asylum field. With other words; the Minister of justice is knowingly breaking his own laws, and what is worse, he is playing Norwegians fear into tricking us into believing that it is the right and moral thing to do.
So we are shouting into a blister, and the people with power is covering their senses. The UN is yelling. Lawyers are yelling, NGOs are yelling, volunteers are yelling. But the scared are yelling louder, and my government thrives on fear. Meanwhile, my refugees are turning more and more anxious, and I don’t know how to make them feel safe. Obviously we can’t, so they are fleeing once more. To the rest, I try to say that I cannot understand how people without valid visas can be evicted just like that. The advocates for human rights will win in the end, right?
ps. Thank you so much for your effort. It helps giving us a sense of purpose, when everything else seems to be up to chance. Most days I’m happy and hopeful, but this is a time to be angry and to act. We are looking into all possibilities to stop this, and are mobilizing political parties, volunteers and the media. The government will not get away with this bullshit! Meanwhile, it feels good to give our inhabitants some bright days, much thanks to you
So, as you can see, the tide has turned in Norway. A ‘civilised’ and very wealthy nation is rejecting the people that most need their help. With the recent events in Koln and increasing negative stories emerging, many in Europe are forgetting that these people are just that, people, and they need our help. There, but for the grace of God, is something that we are in danger of forgetting. Next time, it might be us that need help and compassion
We may not be able to do much from far away, but we can do our best to ensure our own people and government don’t fall into the trap of dehumanising these people. Maybe we should stop calling them refugees and start calling them our brothers and sisters, because that is what they are.
We’re helping in a small way with a little help from our friends (Amrita, this means you!). So on Thursday 21st January, Muzikstan are hosting a fundraiser for ‘our friends in the North’. All the info can be found at:
See you there