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It must be possible to think again

We need a new approach to people on the run, says artist and journalist Mona Bentzen. Together with the Palestinian artist Mutaz al Habbash, she will use art to reach people.


The asylum boarding school at Trandum, which is Norway's only closed detention center for foreigners, has received widespread attention in the Norwegian media in the last month. On March 15, almost four weeks ago, strong protests broke out among the inmates at the boarding school. Between 50 and 60 of the inmates did damage to two of the boarding school's wards. The uprising is the most extensive in the boarding school's history, and according to the inmates themselves is due to dissatisfaction with the conditions at Trandum. "Many have asked me if Trandum is a prison or not. You probably know what a prison is – a prison is a place you are placed in if you if you have done something wrong, if you have harmed someone or are in possession of drugs. Those who sit on Trandum have not done anything wrong, so Trandum is not a prison. And if you're in jail, you know when to go out and why you're in jail. So in many ways, Trandum is worse than a prison. " Mubarik Abedela came to Norway as a single, minor asylum seeker in 2009. The almost 22-year-old man spent a total of 13 months at Trandum In 2013 and 2014. Now he speaks for a packed hall at the House of Literature in Oslo during the seminar «A critical look at Trandum », Organized by the Anti-Racist Center, about how conditions were while he was sitting there. "Conditions at the boarding school are not good. We are human, but we are not treated in a human way. Body searches, control, isolation and bad food are part of everyday life. In addition, it is difficult to live in fear of being sent out of the country. It is a strain, "says Abedela to Ny Tid after the seminar. He was released after eight months at the boarding school, but the police appealed the release. This led to ten new months at Trandum. "It was not really about me, but about the relationship between two countries. I think the Norwegian authorities tried to keep me on Trandum as long as possible while they tried to find ways to send me out. Had they succeeded in this, one could have opened up for more forced returns, "believes Abdela, who remained at Trandum until October last year. Return Agreement. At the age of 16, he fled Ethiopia to Norway. The Human Rights Watch organization reports that the human rights situation in the country is problematic. In 2009, the country introduced anti-terror laws that make it almost illegal to criticize the country's authorities. The laws also limit the possibility of improving the human rights situation in the country, as organizations with more than ten percent funding from abroad are prohibited from working with certain human rights issues.

"We especially hope that the Norwegian youth politicians will become more involved in asylum matters." Mona Bentzen

In 2012, the Norwegian authorities entered into a return agreement with Ethiopia, which opened up for both voluntary and forced returns to the country. However, a legal disagreement between the countries has so far led to the agreement still not being complete. According to the Ministry of Justice, active efforts are being made to get the agreement in place. «In 2012, Norway entered into a return agreement with Ethiopia. The main focus of the agreement is on assisted (voluntary) return, but it is also open to forced return. In the first period after the conclusion of the agreement, much focus was placed on establishing a well-functioning return and re-integration scheme for Ethiopians who wanted to return home. This system is now well established. Efforts are being made to implement the agreement in its entirety, and we hope that it will be possible during the spring, "writes communications consultant Trond Øvstedal in an email to Ny Tid. So far, only one person has been forcibly returned from Norway to Ethiopia. "I had to flee Ethiopia because my father was politically active. This affected the family, leaving me and my siblings with no choice. Today they live in Dubai and Saudi Arabia ", says Abdela. After the country's longtime Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's death in 2012, the country gained new leadership – which created hope for better conditions for human rights in the country. But the organization Human Rights Watch reports on constant human rights violations and attempts to limit opportunities to express criticism of the country's government. In July 2014, nine journalists and bloggers were formally charged with violating the country's anti-terrorism laws. In May, there is a new election in the country. Although the Norwegian authorities are still working to implement the return agreement entered into in 2012, Abdella believes it is unjustifiable to return people to Ethiopia. He points to the political situation in the country as the main reason for this. "It is very dangerous to return people to Ethiopia. If you do that, you have no guarantee that it will go well. The government of the country does not respect human rights or international laws – they do as they please. It is difficult to say what it will take to bring about change in the country. The authorities in the country are critical of those who return, and many are imprisoned. The authorities do what they want, no one hears you scream, "says Abdela. Different. "We need new ideas about asylum policy and how we approach people on the run," says artist and journalist Mona Betnzen. On Easter Sunday this year, together with Palestinian artist Mutaz Al Habbash and art student Marie Skeie, she established a project aimed at conveying asylum and refugee issues in a more multidisciplinary way, where art and creative forms of expression have a central place. “The way we treat asylum seekers and refugees today is not sustainable. Today, it may seem as if it is mostly about numbers for politicians, when the question that should be addressed is how conditions are in the country from which they have fled. It does not help to strengthen the borders of Europe. The problem is the conflicts and those who participate in them. Here, Norway has a great responsibility, both as an arms exporter and as a participant in military missions, ”says Bentzen. She believes that lack of commitment and lack of understanding of refugee and asylum issues is a problem in Norway. “The impression is that many do not understand, or do not dare to engage in, the debate on refugees, immigration and asylum seekers. The truth is that we as voters have more power than we think. We aim to reach as many people as possible to counter this trend, ”says Bentzen. The aim of the project is to make information and asylum problems more accessible and understandable – across disciplines and disciplines. This is done by inviting politicians, artists, journalists, activists and other interested parties to work together to engage both politicians and grassroots people. “In particular, we hope that the Norwegian youth politicians will become more involved in asylum matters. They are the ones who will make the decisions of the future in our country. We believe that engaging in a dialogue between spectator and mediator can engage in a different way than campaigns can, ”Bentzen says. In the longer term, the goal is to reach beyond Norway's borders, and to be an alternative source of information against the EU agency Frontex, which coordinates EU countries' monitoring and control of their borders with non-EU countries. Norway is currently an affiliate of Frontex.

"It is questionable that Norway operates with a system where people are routinely imprisoned without doing anything wrong." Maria Wasvik

“I experience a Europe of terror. You talk about being flooded by people who are on the run, but how true is this? I call for these questions. Are we missing land? Is there talk of a lack of opportunity to finance? Or is this about the fear of other cultures? We expect more people out there to think like us. Eventually we hope that this will be a wave that can flush across Europe, ”says Bentzen. Criticism. The first foreign national boarding school in Norway was established in 1999 outside Fornebu in Oslo. It was relocated to Trandum at Gardermoen Airport in 2000. In 2004, the operation of the boarding house was taken over by the Police Immigration Unit (PU) to relieve the police. Prior to this, it was the Oslo police district that was responsible for the operation of the boarding school. The conditions for both inmates and employees at Trandum have on several occasions been the subject of criticism, both nationally and internationally. In 2006, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture criticized the Norwegian authorities for lacking legal provisions in the Immigration Act for the operation of the boarding school. The Immigration Board now has its own regulations, "Regulations on police immigration internets" / "Immigration internships regulations", which came into force at the same time as the new Immigration Act in 2010. "Our human view can be read by how we treat people. It is striking that the government's high demand for return figures should go beyond the people to be sent out of the country, and it is questionable that Norway operates with a system where people are routinely imprisoned without doing anything wrong, "says Maria Wasvik, an adviser at Antiracist center. She has worked with asylum-related issues since 2009, and knows the conditions at the detention center. During the seminar "A critical look at Trandum immigrant internat" she gave the presentation "Trandum immigrant internat, controversial for a decade". High numbers. In 2014, the number of interned asylum seekers who are imprisoned in accordance with the Immigration Act §106, which also applies to deportation and expulsion, increased by 70 per cent from the previous year. Of the 4182 inmates, 963 people stayed at Trandum for more than a week. 307 of the inmates at the boarding school were children. Some of the inmates have been deported for crime, but most are being detained on the basis of a rejected asylum application and an order to leave the country. "The material conditions at the boarding school have clearly improved since the reorganization in 2012 and in 2013. Nevertheless, there are several things that need to be rectified to ensure the inmates a dignified standard of living," says Wasvik. Like Abdela, she highlights the use of primitive security cells, body searches of the inmates where they have to undress and stand over a mirror, lack of mental health care, lack of activities and one-sided food as some of the problems at Trandum. " the criticism that has now been directed at the boarding school, I think it would be appropriate to take a step back and look at how to solve this in a completely different way. Much of the criticism that has now been raised concerns things that can easily be rectified, such as food and activities. It is disturbing that it is not done. Why not have something as simple as a canteen there, with a little more food selection and variety? In order to meet the systemic criticism, the immigration boarding school and the way in which forced returns are carried out must be completely changed, "concludes Wasvik. Ny Tid has been in contact with the Police Immigration Unit, but did not receive any comment until the case went to press.

Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Former journalist for MODERN TIMES.

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