[ 08. Jul 2010 ]

Norway: Refugee camp burned down to the ground after riot

Burnt out builiding at Lier asylum centre, Photo: The Foreigner/Inez Dawczyk

On 7th of July 2010, an aylum camp for rejected asylum seekers was burned down to protest bad living conditions. Fortunally, noone was seriously hurt in the fire.


Some people have been living there since 2006. The standard at these centers is much lower than in the regular asylum camps, to "Stimulate voluntary return". In fact, people get depressed and mentaly ill by staying there, as there are no activities, bad food, little money and many people in one room.

Jan Erik Skretteberg, regional director of SOS Rasisme, said in an interview with The Foreigner, he can understand why the fire was started, claiming there are many frustrated people who don't get enough food or vitamins. There isn't enough hot water in the showers, and a complete lack of mental health services.

"Several residents have warned previously it was only a matter of time before someone either harms of kills himself because of conditions at the institution. Not only do they live under severe mental pressure, but living conditions at the centres are also not fit for human beings," he says.

Trouble at both the Lier, as well as Fagerli asylum centre in Nannestad in Akerhus municipality started early yesterday morning. Rioters destroyed fixtures and fittings, broke windows, and started smaller fires. Both facilities are now uninhabitable.

The centres house refugees who are awaiting deportation, after their asylum applications have been a final rejection. Some have been living there for four years.

Both NOAS (the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers), and Norwegian People's Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp) told NRK yesterday they believe the government deliberately keeps conditions to a minimum. As deportees, they have no rights to medical help and are given 100 kroner per week in pocket money.

"It seems the Norwegian authorities are engaged in a kind of exhaustion technique. They see who can last the longest, instead of having centres that work in accordance with the original purpose of encouraging them to travel home," said Irfan Qaiser, refugee policy spokesman for Norsk Folkehjelp.

Before the center was burned down...

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, after the riots but before the center was burned down, one refugee was interviewed by Drammens Tidende during a visit at the Lier natioanl reception. "I'm the one who started it. I threw the first stone," he was quoted.

Drammens Tidende stylized this man, who's was there for a year and two months, to a leader:

"Several others earlier said the same, but when the Iraqi came, we quickly got the message from the others that he's the leader. He's kept to the background towards the press for a long time, but makes direct contact and wants to talk. When he talks, the others fall silent. (...) The man claims that he was the spokesperson with the police during the night. He can come up with names, and agrees to being photographed from the back. 'But don't photograph the face. I don't want to be a famous man,' he says.

We walk around the center. Almost all the glass windows in the administration buildings and dormitories are broken. We step over glass everywhere. Stones are strewn on the lawn and inside the buildings. In one place the asphalt is torn up - apparently to obtain more 'ammunition'. Next to the main building, a garbage shed burned down, and in front of the building a car of the center is without windows. Nevertheless, we can't find remorse by the man.

'No. We wrote a letter to the Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and met the boss here three times in the past month. We've complained about the conditions. We're treated like animals. But nothing happened,' says the man.
'Therefore violence is the only and best way. There were no journalists here yesterday. Now all the journalists re here and are asking what's happening and wondering how we're doing,' he explains. 'We don't like violence. But see no other solution. And if it doesn't get better, this is just a first warning of what can happen.'"

Then the journalists asked about the revolt in Nannestad detention centre: "There was also trouble in the reception center in Nannestad. Were you in contact? 'Yes. We speak to each other all the time.'"

"... to get attention"

An Iraqi resident, who didn't want his name in the paper, shows the damage to cars, buildings and sheds. He's been in the Lier center for three months.

"I'm glad for the violence. It's the best way to get attention in Norway. Now everybody knows what's happening here, that we just get 100 kroner a week, and that everything we can do is to eat and sleep," he says. He participated in the riots during the night, and thinks it's the only way to change his hopeless situation. He shows Aftenposten his bedroom, a narrow, small room of 15-20 sqm, shared by five grown men. Some metal lockers for clothes and personal property. Five beds and a desk with a television is all that's there. The TV, says the Iraqi, was obtained by the residents, they didn't get it from the center.

Another resident says that they've been in Norway illegally for years, and says that he's been here since 2002. Some of them have been in the Lier center since it was opened five years ago.

"Look at him down there," one points to a thin man sitting alone under a tree. "He always sits there, all alone, and speaks to the tree. People go crazy living here, there's nothing to do besides eating and sleeping," says the man, originally from Somalia. He's been in Norway for the past nine years and says he's a :: 'Dubliner' and in theory should go back to Italy.

Lier rioters' demands not met

Hallstein Saunes, general manager of Link AS that runs the facility, told The Foreigner on 8th of July 2010, that the inmates went on the rampage after delivering an ultimatum: "They demanded to be moved from Lier, and then started rioting by throwing stones through the reception's window." Saunes says further, that the refugees go to the centres voluntarily, and are given three meals a day. "But they're only temporary facilities for people who have received a final refusal to their asylum applications."

Like many ofther detention centres, this camps are called officially "temporary facilities", but people have to stay there for years under bad contitiones. And in many of such camps, people forced to live their revolted. And from time to time detention centres are burned down to the ground.

Sources ::, :: 1, :: 2, ::