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The hunger strike in silence

At a reception in Lier, eight Somalis went on hunger strike. The UDI tried to prevent Ny Tid from coming into contact with them.


[Hunger strike] The Afghan asylum seekers who from 26 May left Oslo Cathedral are not the only ones who use hunger strike as a form of protest in Norway. Ny Tid has found some of the country's unknown hunger strikers.

On Friday, June 23, eight Somalis began hunger strikes in protest of the authorities' treatment of them, and against conditions at Lier's state waiting reception at Lierskogen outside Drammen.

- The reason we went on hunger strike is that we do not have a good life here. We are isolated, says Adnan Haji Engh, spokesman for the hunger strikers.

Lier Reception opened in April as the first "waiting reception" in Norway, intended only for asylum seekers who have received final rejection of their applications. Previously, the site was a regular asylum reception, but when the waiting reception opened in April, Lier's waiting reception was also the first of its kind in Europe.

The approximately 40 residents receive clothing and food, but not daily allowance as in other asylum centers. But many are unstoppable because it is war, as in Somalia. The employees conduct "return motivational work" to the rejected asylum seekers.

The head of Lier's waiting reception, Harald Nesset, made it clear that he was not interested in the hunger-striking Somalis being allowed to talk to journalists when Ny Tid tried to contact the Somalis.

- The reception does not want this case to be mentioned in the press, Nesset stated.

He did not want to mediate contact with the Somalis and referred Ny Tid to the UDI. However, department head Svein-Erik Bersås was able to state the following:

- A reception is not a public place where you can just go in and talk to whoever you want.

Nor would UDI's communications director Agnar Kaarbø help:

- The Somalis do not want to speak to the press, Kaarbø claimed.

But Sylo Taraku, information director at the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (Noas), says the UDI's claims are not correct.

- On Friday, the Somalis wanted help from the reception management to contact the media, something the reception did not want. On Saturday, the hunger strikers agreed among themselves that it was not necessary to contact the press, but they also never expressed that they did not want contact with the media, Taraku says.

Somalis spokesman Adnan Haji Engh comments in this way on the UDI's version of the hunger strikers' wishes:

- This is «false information». We will talk to any newspaper that will listen to us. We do not know how long we will stay here. We have tried to find out why we are here, but no one is talking to us and no one is deporting us. They say we can go voluntarily, but I am from Mogadishu where conditions are very difficult, says Engh.

The hunger strike at Lier ended on Tuesday this week, after Noah brokered and undertook to help the Somalis on hold.

Hunger strikes in prison

[hunger strike] In Oslo prison hunger strikes two asylum seekers in protest of being treated as criminals. Both have been denied their asylum applications.

The police question their identity but cannot send them back because they do not know their true identity.

Ahmed Suleyman Wawi has been in custody for eight months, and has just ended a week and a half of hunger strikes according to the doctor's recommendation. He says he wants to resume

the hunger action this weekend.

- Norwegian authorities say I am from Israel, but there is no answer from Israel that confirms this. I am Palestinian, he says.

Wawi originally sat on the heavily criticized boarding school at Trandum. He asked to be transferred to Oslo Prison for better medical services.

- I was ill, but had to wait eight months before I got to see a doctor, Wawi says.

In addition to Wawi, a North African has been starving since June 16. He wants to be anonymous.

- The police use detention as a means of pressure to get the refugees to return to their home countries, claims the refugees' lawyer Kjell Dahl.

- Are not advocates

The UDI believes that it is not their job to disclose actions at asylum reception centers in Norway.

[udi] – We will be hesitant about the demands of the hunger strikers. The residents achieve nothing by going on hunger strike. It is completely unnecessary, said the head of department at the UDI, Svein-Erik Bersås, while the hunger strike was going on.

The result of the hunger strike, however, was that Somalis had to fulfill one of their demands: to have someone represent them. Noas went into the case.

Director of Communications at UDI, Agnar Kaarbø, denies that they have provided incorrect information.

- Why do you say that the hunger strikers would not talk to the press, when we get an interview with them a few hours later?

- We can not deny anyone who lives in the reception contact with the press. The Somalis made it clear that they would not speak to the media.

- The spokesman for the hunger strikers says that this is «false information». Do you think he's lying?

- As I said, they told the reception staff that they did not want to talk to journalists, later they changed their minds.

- It took a couple of hours to get access to Oslo prison, while we tried for two days before we got access to Lier reception. Why?

- We passed on your inquiry to the Somalis, who said that they did not want mention of the completed operation.

- How many other hunger strikes in the UDI's reception?

- The regional offices are not aware of any hunger strikes at any reception.

- The hunger strikers asked the reception management for help to get in touch with the press and were refused. Is this routine?

- We have no routines for this. It is not the UDI or the reception centers that advocate for those who take action. But we refuse no one to speak to the media, says Kaarbø.

By Mikal Hem

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