Norway: Rejected refugees riot to protest living conditions

Norway: Rejected refugees riot to protest living conditions

Police have arrested 23 people on suspicion of arson after last night’s fire that destroyed Lier asylum centre in Buskerud.

The fire started in three separate buildings that were far apart almost simultaneously, and preliminary investigations show traces of inflammable liquids.

Inmates already knew what was going to happen, as several refugees had packed their belongings, according to VG.

Jan Erik Skretteberg, regional director of SOS Rasisme, says 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.

This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog -

“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.



In an interview Tuesday afternoon, after the riots but before the center was burned down, the leader of the Kurdish asylum seekers was interviewed by Drammens Tidende.

"I'm the one who started it. I threw the first stone," an Iraqi man told Drammens Tidende when we visited the Lier natioanl reception yesterday afternoon.

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.

"I'm the leader of about 35 Kurds here in the center," says the man, who's been there for a year and two months.

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."

Q: There was also trouble in the reception center in Nannestad. Were you in contact?

"Yes. We speak to each other all the time."


Drammens Tidende met several desperate people in the reception center. All said they'd like to go home to their homeland - but that it was too dangerous. Therefore they have to stay in Norway.

"If I go home, I'll be killed," said one.

"I'd rather be here than to go home to prison," said another.

Each of them tells of bad food, not enough food, not enough warm water in the showers, that the internet connection is bad, that they get 100 kroner a week to live on and that they get bad medical care.

"We feel like slaves without a social life. There are people who have been here for four-five years," says the leader.

Another men says he stole a cola when he was on a tour of Drammen.

"We get juice, juice and juice. I hadn't tasted a cola for several months. In the end I took one," says the man.

"We can't sleep at night. There are many who have to take pills to sleep a little. And there are many who tried to take their lives. You can see the attempts on people's arms," says the leader of the Kurds.

"Why can't we get permission to work, earn money and pay taxes? Now we just sit in the center all day. Have no money to do anything."

The leader shows us his room to see the conditions he lives by. But the police prevented Drammens Tidende from going into the premises.

"We live five to a room. We are people but are treated like animals."

Several other people made contact and told the same stories, but didn't want to be in the paper. They feel treated in an unworthy manner, and think that the conditions in the waiting center are the reason for the riots.


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.

Sources: The Foreigner (English), Drammens Tidende, Aftenposten (Norwegian)

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