I am spending my summer as a Peace Scholar, representing Luther in Norway at the International Summer School at the University of Oslo. As part of my Peace Scholars program, we take a Peace Seminar. This year the topic of our seminar has been the refugee crisis and specifically Norway's response to the influx of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Norway. My favorite part of our seminar is that we have the opportunity to have incredible field visits. We have visited scholars and activists and this past week, we visited an asylum camp in Oslo called Torshov Transittmottak (transit reception center).
When I was told we were going to Torshov, I didn't know what to expect. We have learned a ton about asylum seekers and the refugee crisis. We have discussed statistics and policy. We have discussed the Norwegian response to the crisis. But in all of that talk I failed to remember that there is a human side to this issue. Going to Torshov changed that for me.
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 due to the influx of refugees last fall, some of the people at the center have been waiting for up to three months.
Unlike what some of the political rhetoric surrounding refuges and asylum seekers would suggest, the people, mostly men but a few women (and two young babies) staying at Torshov are not living in luxury. Honestly, they really aren't even living comfortably. They stay in eight-person dorm rooms with a locker-sized (think middle school lockers) storage space.
At Torshov, the asylum seekers 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 reason to stay in Norway. For some, this is the most important interview of their life.
Being at Torshov reminded me to see the human side of our political discourse. Facts, figures, policy, those things are all really important. But at the end of the day, real people are impacted by the decisions the politicians make. Those politicians are able to make those decisions because we vote for them. And even in a country like Norway, that is known globally for its humanitarian efforts, people need to be reminded every once and a while that real people are impacted by our facts, figures and policies. Real people are impacted by how we interact with them. I believe that we can do better. We need to do better to help real people, with real dreams, facing real hardship.