Theater of Cruelty

On water and freeze-dried food

Trandum internment camp was built for short-term stays. Now foreigners sit there for up to one year. By Gunnar Thorenfeldt, Harald Eraker and Kim Nygård (photo)


[trandum] – I promise to leave the country. I promise never to come back. Just let us out of here, asks Muhamed Alic (43). Through the window you can see another plane leaving Gardermoen's runway. His wife Liza (41) is crying. The room consists of six beds and a table. On the table is a Bible in Serbo-Croatian.

- I can not stand more. I do not know what to do, she says.

The two Gypsies from the former Yugoslavia have been on the Trandum foreigner intern for 28 days. They had their three children when they came to Norway in 2005. When Muhamed and Liza were arrested in January they were not with the children. Now the Norwegian authorities do not know where the three children of fifteen, thirteen and twelve years are.

- This is not a place for children. Can not at least the wife be allowed to go so she can be with them, asks her husband Muhamed.

He and his wife claim that they also do not know where the children are.


Liza and Muhamed are just two of those arrested through section 37 of the Immigration Act. If a foreigner refuses to give up his or her identity, or "there is a reasonable reason to suspect" that they are giving up a false identity, they can be arrested and imprisoned. The total imprisonment period may not exceed twelve weeks, "unless special reasons exist." In practice, this means that there is no time limit on how long they can stay in prison. For Muhamed and Liza, this means that they may be at Trandum for a very long time.

Lawyer Arild Humlen is the head of the Oslo Circuit Law Society, which organizes over 3500 lawyers, and has one of the inmates as his client. Hops believes there are several similarities between the treatment of those interned at Trandum and the US prison camp at Guantánamo.

- A regime is created outside all existing norms. That is the Guantánamo mentality. You create a prison where you do not have to comply with society's basic norms. We can not accept that, says Humlen.

He has asked the Advocate Association's human rights group to consider the extent to which conditions at Trandum violate human rights.

- The conditions are clearly in conflict with the European Prison Convention. And this in every way bears the mark of being a prison, says Humlen.

He believes that treatment at Trandum may also violate Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states "No one should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Last stop

While other prisoners are in prisons with good facilities, foreigners must sit in a boarding house which is only intended for stays over a few days. The former military camp should really only serve as the last stop before foreigners with illegal residence were sent out of the country. Four years ago, the then municipal minister, Erna Solberg, told the Storting that "the boarding house is only intended for short-term stays....

But a year later, something happened. The prison queues kept getting longer and the police took over responsibility for Trandum. In October last year, the Council of Europe's torture monitoring committee visited the Internet. They found that a person had been locked up at Trandum for over a year. In addition, they stated that the activity offer is too poor when people are kept there for a long time.

Long-term affair

Liza is seriously ill. Norwegian specialists have stated that she must undergo surgery to remove cysts in the abdominal region.

Every half hour XNUMX hours a guard comes into their room to check that the window is properly locked.

- Even if I take sleeping pills, I am not allowed to sleep. I have to lie down with all my clothes on, I'm afraid they'll see me naked, says Liza. A security guard who listens to the conversation embarrassingly says "that they try to be as quiet as possible".

On Friday, February 24, their case will be open to the Oslo District Court. Liza has admitted that she bought the identification papers for 100 euros from a man. In the judgment of Asker and Bærum Tingrett, it states that "the court finds that it is very likely that the fabricated will evade the police's further investigation if they are not imprisoned". But many Gypsies from the former Yugoslavia lack identification papers. They even claim to be from Bosnia and Serbia.

- It is very uncertain whether the Bosnian and Serbian authorities want to issue ID documents to gypsies, says their lawyer, Halvor Gjengstø. And as long as they do not have valid ID documents, no country will accept them either.

Gjenstø thinks they could risk sitting in the boarding house for a long time.

- This can be a long-term affair, he says.

The lawyer believes the alternative is that they be transferred to an ordinary asylum reception, so that they can be reunited with their children.

- I think there are few who are aware of how bad the conditions here are. This is the state's rubbish bin for human waste, says lawyer Trond Olsen Næss.

The only food the inmates get is frozen turkey and bread slices. In addition, Trandum is located at the end of Gardermoen Airport. So sleep, according to the inmates, is in short supply.

Næs has had two clients who have been in the boarding school for a long time. One client sat from August last year to January this year. The second set from September to the end of January.

- I think it is strange that people further up in the system do not react. I wonder how much they know, says Næss.

Terror for suicide

- Here we put, among other things, those who try to commit suicide. Sometimes it happens that we tie our arms and legs, says police chief for Trandum camp, Ståle Sørmo, and points to a smooth cell. It is small and lacks a toilet.

Sørmo is head of the Transit Department of the Police Immigration Unit and head of the Trandum Immigration Internat. He admits that suicide attempts are not uncommon.

- Once, one of the employees had to hold up a person who tried to hang himself, he says, and says that fear that the detainees will commit suicide is the reason why the employees enter the cells every half hour.

- I would rather make things a little more uncomfortable than have someone end their days here, Sørmo says.

Trandum is divided into three departments: a family department with a small playroom, living room with TV and a limited outdoor area with play equipment. When Ny Tid was there for the first time, it was clear that no one had used the outdoor area for a long time. There was untouched snow all over the area. Two days later, the outdoor area was powerless, but there was still no trace of the detainees. "They rarely want to go out in the cold winter weather," is Sørmo's explanation.

In addition, there is a single section where there is, among other things, a living room with TV and a tiny "outdoor area with the possibility of easier ball games". It was clear that no one had used this place for a long time either. Finally, there is a security department where, among other things, people who try to commit suicide are kept. There are several smooth cells.

Tough job

- If I could not say with my hand on my heart that people live in justifiable conditions, I would not be able to sleep well at night, says Chief of Police Sørmo.

In 2005, Trandum had 8822 nights.

- It is more than most hotels in the area, says the police chief. On average, the "guests" stay at the boarding school for three days, according to the police's own statistics. Sørmo admits that the job can be tough.

- There are several who can not work here. It's getting too strong. Over the past two years, seven people have either resigned voluntarily or been asked to resign. It's not because they're bad people. But it is a challenge. One must be strong. We are human beings. You have to be able to finish things. The next day you must be able to work with blank sheets, he says.

Although he cannot decide whether or not people are granted asylum, he is often asked to help.

- People often say that «you have to help me». You are the last person they can cling to. You have to try to notify them gently, you can not say «Stop fussing. You will be sent home anyway ». One must listen and try to calm down. At the same time, you must not give people hope either, says Sørmo.

He says that foreigners often apologize for bad behavior when sent out of the country.

- Fortunately, it seems to me that they often put things on the line. That it is not as bad as they should have it, says Sørmo.

He says that there have been several cases where people have escaped from the boarding school.

- This is not an escape-proof prison, says Sørmo.

Just before Christmas, there was also a group of Libyans entrenched in one of the rooms.

- It was dramatic in the beginning, when we feared that this might be a hostage situation and that we would not be able to get in. But luckily it went well, says Sørmo.


- I was shocked. I did not know that it was so bad until I got my own client, says lawyer Humlen.

His client has been on the boarding school since December 20.

- Send me home instead. Everything is better than this, says the 20-year-old boy from Siri Lanka to Ny Tid.

He would rather not have his name in print, but he thinks it's okay for Ny Tid to take a picture of him.

- This is an absolutely terrible place. They even open the door when I sit on the toilet. What other places are you not allowed to go to the bathroom alone, he asks.

On February 20, his case was dismissed by the Supreme Court. In an order from Oslo District Court on January 31, it says that he gets fifteen minutes of airing per day. It also says that "The diet is a bag of freeze-dried food plus bread slices, and he gets stomach ache and sleep problems". The police had no objection to the presentation of the circumstances.

- It's not just me who struggles with stomach problems. Everyone here does it, says the boy.

Also a person from Mauritania confirms it.

- Everyone here is sick to the stomach, he says.

Liza and Muhamed also complain about the freeze-dried food, which is called "Real tour food" and which is launched under the slogan "small bag, big meal". The food is primarily used by the Norwegian military, but is also marketed as tour food for long expeditions. When Ny Tid calls Real Turmat to find out if they would recommend eating this food for almost a year, a confused employee answers that "it probably sounds a bit extreme".

- I have lost seven kilos. And I'm sick to my stomach all the time, says Liza.

Attorney Trond Olsen Næs says that one of his clients got so bad that they eventually got him transferred to Oslo prison.

- Not even Norway's most dangerous criminals get such bad food, says Næss.

Good ideas

- It is important to remember that these people are foreigners who are staying illegally in the country. They have had their asylum applications rejected, says Chief of Police Sørmo.

At the same time, he admits that conditions are not suitable for long-term stays. But he thinks the food is nutritionally sound.

- But if it was imposed on us, we would not have had anything against setting up a proper kitchen or get a catering scheme, Sørmo says.

He confirms that there are few activity opportunities in the boarding school. All they can offer is a table tennis table and an ergometer bike.

- It is also true that there are few leisure activities here, but there are large space restrictions within these walls. So if you have any good ideas, feel free to come up with them, says Sørmo.

- What about a sandbag. So could people turn on something other than you?

- He, he. Yes, maybe it's an idea, says Sørmo.

He says a croat walks around and washes all the time just to have something to do.

- Is this not more a prison than a boarding school?

- No. Prisons are meant to be bad. It must be a punishment. This is not meant to be a punishment, says Sørmo.

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