A large part of our Peace Scholar program is a course that includes seminars and a research project. My favorite part of our course is the opportunity we have for field visits. We have visited scholars and activists and today we visited an asylum camp in Oslo called Torshov.
I didn’t know what to expect from our trip to Torshov. We have learned a ton, especially in the last week or so about asylum seekers and the refugee crisis. We have discussed numbers and policy; we have discussed the Norwegian response to the crisis but we didn’t have the opportunity to see the human side…until today. Torshov is a transit center which means that people live in the center for a short period of time, or they are supposed to, but do to the influx of refugees last fall, some of the people at the center have been waiting for up to 3 months.
Unlike some of the political rhetoric that surrounds refuges and asylum seekers would suggest, the people staying at Torshov are not living in luxury, they really aren’t even living comfortably. They stay in 8 people dorm rooms with a locker (think middle school lockers) sized storage space.
At Torshov, they honestly just wait. The people there do not have permission to work. They get an allowance of about 200 NOK ($23.27) every two weeks. The kids go to school and the center has activities and Norwegian classes to begin integration into the community but the main concern for people at Torshov is an intensive interview process that they have to prepare for. This interview (which can last up to 10 hours) is how the immigration officials make their decision as to whether or not the asylum seeker has a valid safety concern and thus a valid reason to stay in Norway.
I was reminded today about the importance of remember the human side of any political debates. Facts, figures, policy, those things are all really important. But at the end of the day, real people are effected by those decisions. And even in a country like Norway, that is known globally for its humanitarian efforts needs to be reminded every once and a while that other people are effected by our fact, figures and policy. As far as the refugee crisis in the world today I believe that we can do better. We should do better to help real people, with real dreams, facing real persecution and hardship.