Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 1 seeking asylum at Oslo's Police station

I came to Oslo at the beginning of February of 2010. The hip of snow and the on-going road construction everywhere made the the ally-ways looked very narrow and impossible to walk. I arrived at the Police station at midnight and the receptionists let me in to a small room after doing their routine short queries and searching my luggage and myself. The room was dimly lit with florescent lights, a few furniture were scattered here and there, at the far right end loves of bread, biscuits, jams were piled on top of the a sideboard and next to it a mini water dispenser was stalled. A dozen people were lying down on the floor, table or benches while a few others were chatting in groups silently at the middle of the room. There were young and old, women and men. I was so hungry and tired so I ate some loves of bread with marmalade and slept on the chairs that I rearranged them as a bed. I hardly slept that night as the hard wood was hurting my skinny body. A police officer yelled at the top of his voice 'wake up' just I was about to sleep-I wish I could slap him. Somebody told me when I came from the toilet that my number was called several times to be interviewed, and that did cost me 2days and 2sleepless nights on those hard wooden chairs. Asylum seekers from Africa, Asia, Former Soviet Union countries, Middle east were pouring every now and then. Some were grouped with their family members while others were sticking with their fellow country men/women and the rest like me were sitting/walking alone. There's one thing in common among us-anxiety- except for those little kids who were running around or crying. Some walk around restlessly waiting anxiously for their cigarette break at every an hour while others munch bread/biscuits with coffee or tea and the rest of us just gaze on the ceiling or on the floor and still some others were curled at the corner on the chairs or floor. I was tired of the those snakes and waiting for real meal at lunch because, I read in one brochure that warm meals will be served at lunch, hmm to my dismay it was never served during my whole stay. The next day my fellow countryman ushered into the room. He is in his mid 30s, short, bald with dark complexion, looks very nervous and sweaty. He wore a leather jacket on top of another jacket and jumper, a pair of faded denim and sky blue timberland winter shoes. He came and sat on the empty bench in front of me-mumbling some words to himself pointing his forefinger up (I don't know if it was asking heaven's forgiveness/help) and then squeezing the red acne on his forehead. He woke me up from my daydream when he jerked from his seat and came to greet me. I was frozen for a few seconds before I stretched my hands and say my name. He started to say very quickly and all my ears could grab was 'I'm guilty, I'm guilty, what shall I do?' I told him to calm down and explain to me what went wrong. He told me he was caught at Oslo's airport while trying to enter from Italy with forged passport two days ago and about his mental illness. He said he paid a fortune to come here as life was too harsh in Italy and worried that the authorities will send him back. I told him it is not the end of the world and to wait for the response from the immigration authorities and his lawyer. Then he thanked me for the advice and went to grab some bread and coffee. He forgot about all those problems and started to munch and drink hungrily and said ''oh praise to God, I was so hungry and I didn't even invite you to join me'' I told him it's OK and continued chatting. At the corner two kids aged between 4-5years were playing while their 2yr old sibling was crying non-stop on the lap of his mother. On the other corner a young Afghan girl curled down on the floor covering herself with the white towel which was given to us to serve as a blanket. Another tall middle-aged Afghan man with salt and pepper hair was complaining that why there was no real food and why wouldn't the receptionist call him for the interview every time the janitor opened the door for us to take fresh air/smoke cigarette outside from our confinement. It seemed like the time stopped ticking, the room was silent except for the whining baby and complaining Afghan man. A receptionist opened the door connected to their office and started calling numbers assigned to each individual and broke the silence. And then, this woman in her late 30s ushered into the room with her infant baby. She wore an oversized brown skirt with yellow blouse and put on a worn out boots. She dyed hair with henna and there were some brown spots on her face. She wore gold ornaments on both of her earlobes and one at the top of her left ear and 3 or 4 rings on both right and left fingers. Exhaustion, hunger, tension, loneliness were all over her face. She sat on the edge of the bench lulling her baby. My new friend insisted to ask her if she wanted something to eat or drink, because he thought she could be from our country. She thanked us with sunshine like smile and said in a broken Amharic (she is from Eritrea) that all she needed is baby food adding that she forgot her baby's milk bottle while having coffee at Rome Airport. After a while, she became a bit relaxed and started to tell us how and when she came to Norway. She told us she get lost at the airport and couldn't find the exit so she approached one of the police officer at Oslo airport and told him/her in broken English ''hey you, this passport no good, forged'' and want to ''surrender'' its literal meaning seeking asylum. Her baby was hungry and crying so she couldn't help herself crying too. She giggled for a while thinking about how she and her baby's crying bothered the police officers at the airport. She said oh thank God now she was here but she expressed her worries that she might be sent back to Italy. The Afghan man still yelling, cursing about this homo country, while others were looking at him with bewilderment, surprise or shock. Another chubby young man from Kurdistan was whispering on his mobile phone jerking his hands, one Congolese woman and her daughter with very bright turban like dresses were talking in a very low voice, the other Kurdistan guy was checking text messages on his mobile, the Eritrean woman was walking restlessly and knocking the glass partition that separates us from the reception bureau. Outside, it was pitch black dark, 10cm high snow and Osloians (is there such a term, if not it's my copyright) were rushing to their houses or somewhere else warm to escape the cold winter. Finally, my new friend and I were summoned for the long awaited interview around 9 o'clock in the evening and requested to wait in another room to be transferred to another transit refugee camp. The room was painted sky blue, there were very old and dirty sofas in the room, in addition to a mini water dispenser and a shelf piled on with snacks. Here was the big drama, I was so hungry and didn't have no choice but to eat those snakes I detested. The old Afghan man said to me that they don't eat bread, these foods are for animals in Afghanistan . I said ok and continued eating and then he said bon-appetite went to a sofa to munch the biscuits he said that are for animals in his country. He awaken us from our daydream by slamming a pack of biscuits on the wall, boom! His anger tantrum got out of control and started insulting the other Kurdistan men. He said their fellow country men tortured him while he was in Iraq and started to fight with one of them. Somebody separated them and the guy who was about to be attacked knocked the door (we're literally locked up in that room) and urged for help. The police officers immediately showed up, but the assailant didn't stop there he started again to yell at them, crumpled his ID card and throw it on the floor. The police officers who were annoyed by non-stop disturbance threatened him to jail him unless he picks up his ID from the floor. He obeyed and started to act like an obedient dog. The drama stopped there and we were driven to another transit camp outside Oslo. This is the end of Asylum 102 and I will come back with Asylum 102 at Loren transit camp where there's a lot of love and hate, social activities, bickering over tv channels, kitchen, laundry machines, etc

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life 101 at refugee camp!

I arrived at Loren transit camp early in the evening for medical reason. The receptionist ushered me to a room assigned to me. He knocked the door and opened it with his master key as there were no reply from inside. A mix of suffocated air with the stench of unwashed socks and some kind of food smell welcomed us from the 3x4 room. There are four blue plastic chairs with one armchair and a table at the middle, one sauce pan was next a one of the two metal bunk beds, unwashed socks, winter shoes were everywhere, the two white closets stalled on both sides and there's one white refrigerator next to to the door, at the right there was one cupboard which was piled up with different food items, under the small round table there's a very dirty towel whose color was beyond recognition because it was served as a mop and stained with lots of oil and other unknown substances. The room was so dirty and disorganized-typical bachelor's room-which made it smaller than its size and the wall including the closets were covered with over due Christmas gift papers and postcards. After a while somebody from the bed on the right hand side said hello to us in a falsetto voice, all I could see was only just a head covered by yellow towel and a spectacle. The receptionist went back to his job and my new roommate raised his back from the bed and started to talk. New arrivals should expect 3Is' when they arrive- introduction, interrogation and induction. Now my eyes were able to see the guy clearly, he looks like one of the characters in a comedy books -lost all his front teeth-he is in his 50s, tall and well-built, bald with dark complexion. He introduced himself and then said that I had a big luggage. I looked around and all of the baggage were smaller than mine so I felt guilty. Then he told me to put it on top of one of the closets, I looked around again and there was one luggage on top of the other cup-board then I feel like it was a rule and struggled to put mine but if it wasn't for his help I would never managed as it was a bit heavy. Then the introduction part started, he told me who he was and started interrogating me where I come, who I am, what I was doing and simply speaking he just cornered me. He finalized by induction:he told me not tell all the answers, that I gave to him, to other roommates or people who are living at the camp as it might jeopardize my asylum case. He cautioned me to take only one from each cutlery from the kitchen box that was given to me from the camp to avoid controversies arising from mix up with other roommates. He also told me not to buy too much food items adding that there are organizations which provide food hand outs. Then, the other roommate came in and did all the 3Is' that I mentioned above-just human curiosity. He started to laugh after seeing my luggage on top of the closet and told me to put it down on the floor, I did and I left to buy some groceries from the nearby supermarket. When I came back I met the third roommate and he wanted to do the 3Is' but I told him all I wanted to do was just to cook some food as I was very hungry. Here we go, the kitchen was my biggest shock, it was very hot (though it was below- 10degerees outside) was filled in with a mixture of fried oil and cigarette smoke. There were about four men in their 40s from Albania arguing noisily and smoking, regardless of a no smoke sign on the door and on every 3cupboards. All of the three stoves were covered with thick grease and littered and stained with spaghetti, rice, oil, some spill over from hot cooking sauce pans and the floor is wet with muddy water and other substances. The two garbage bins were full to their limits and the remaining trash were scattered on the floor everywhere nevertheless the people cooking there seemed/pretended to care less. There are regulation notices in various languages (Persian,English, French, Arabic, Spanish,Albanian, Turkish, Polish, Tigringa, Amharic, etc) along with pictures posted on the cupboards but this one is the most which grabbed my eyes and I guess you have never seen that kind of notice anywhere in the world in the kitchen. Don't brush your teeth and don't wash your feet in the sink! Well, I was hungry and I had to eat so I joined the club. I just cooked as fast I can and left that messy place to fill in my stomach. I ate what I cooked and wanted to go to the toilet, to my dismay the gent's toilet on our floor was shut down for repair so I had to use the one upstairs. Oh gosh, I expected it to be dirty after seeing the kitchen but I wasn't ready for the kind of dirtiness and smell. Simply speaking, I caught cold after I visited that toilet-the floor was soaked with urine, the toilet seat stained inside out, the shower was filled with cigarette tubs and hairs . I couldn't believe that human beings can be as negligent as they can be and damage their health and the people around them. Shock, shock, shock. I spent the next few weeks coughing due to the smell that I had from that stinky toilet. This camp never seized to amaze me with these strange notices, you can find these notices on every toilets' door. Watch and enjoy like you have never been before, it's surreal. I went to the kitchen with my roommate and there were those same guys smoking and chatting as if it was a bar or smoking place and I was so outraged I showed them the 'don't smoke sign' but they were even more outraged by my reaction and one of them started to tease me like this 'you reception'. To make things worse my roommate said to them ''hallo ma frand'' (meaning my friend) showed thumb's up which really shocked me. I told him stop but he said he didn't want any argument and continued encouraging them to smoke, so I felt like an outcast and helpless. Two of them were smoking when I went to the kitchen a few days later and and I told them to smoke outside by explaining my allergies towards cigarette but they made a fool out of me and continued smoking but this time I couldn't take it anymore so I told the receptionist about the issue and he gave them warning and from that time on they always check if I am around in the kitchen if they want to smoke in there.
Surafel is an almost 4yrs old boy who was taken from Rosenhof school in Oslo on May 19, 2010 to a foster family by Norwegian children welfare authorities and the police for being allegedly beaten, neglected by his mom Semira Embaye. They were both living happily at Loren transit camp up until the reception at the camp told her not to go and pick him up from school. The authorities according to Semira didn't show any evidence whatsoever which prove her guilty. She has a chronic disease but stopped taking the strong medicine she was taking due to loss of appetite after her kid was taken. She said the school told the authorities that Surafel was slapped by an adult, was not fed and taken care properly by his mom and the court decided to give him to a foster family. Semira told me that the school has told her once not to send him with spaghetti to avoid competition amongst kids since other kids in the school bring only sandwiches. Semira spent one night with him at a place where abused children were staying and talked to him on the phone only once and Surafel told her he is scared and asked her to take him back home. Semira is right now worried about her kid's future fate and missed him so much she was crying day and night. She met the authorities 3 times and they are forcing her to admit that he was beaten and neglected. She met the the authorities today May 27, 2010 and denied all the charges they filed against her and told they came to negotiate how to handover Surafel to Semira. Clinic staffs at the camp were outraged by such day light robbery and hired a lawyer to defend Semira. She told me her kid is kidnapped and wants justice to be served. Many moms right now are skeptic of sending their children to school.