Around 20 Ethiopian asylum seekers protesting against the Norwegian immigration authority’s decision to send them home have returned to Oslo Cathedral for a new protest, following their occupation of the church and hunger strikes in February.
The protestors set up a large white tent directly beside the entrance to the cathedral early in the morning of Wednesday 27 April. Their return came after police action yesterday during which the authorities moved 53 Ethiopian asylum seekers out of transitional asylum centers at Refstad and Torshov in the capital, during which three arrests were made.
Barricades, police dogs and helicopters
32 of the thrown-out refugees managed to find their way back into the building and barricaded themselves into a room, but were thrown out again by police using dogs and helicopters. While Guri Norstrøm of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) described the removal in newspaper Aftenposten as “non-dramatic,” with the protestors leaving voluntarily, the asylum seekers themselves claimed that they were put in handcuffs and handled forcefully. They also said that police had dropped them off in a number of places around Oslo, including places with little access to public transport. The police themselves would not comment on this.
The Ethiopians then moved on to Oslo Cathedral. Their numbers were greater at the beginning of the night, but a number of pregnant women and children found places to stay with friends. Police have confirmed that they are aware of the situation and have visited the site.
A spokesperson from UDI, Per Engan-Skeie, told news agency NTB that they “had no other alternative than to ask the police to move them” because they “need the transit centers for asylum seekers that have recently come to the country.” UDI also confirmed that the group had been offered places in other asylum centers in Norway, which they had refused. The Ethiopians were originally only supposed to stay in the transit center for a week but this was lengthened in order to allow them to meet with UDI and others including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
‘We have no power’
The protestors, most of whom have been in Norway for at least five years, originally occupied the church in February and undertook hunger strikers in protest at the fact that they did not feel that they had received individual treatment by UDI, and that they had simply been collectively evaluated. They fear that they could come to harm if they return to Ethiopia because the government has accused them of being members of the political opposition, or because they are related to those involved in opposition politics. The entire group has received final rejections for their applications but cannot be sent back as Norway lacks an agreement with the Ethiopian state on return. Since the new year, they have reportedly been without work permits or tax documents.
One of the protestors, Level Tadesse, told Aftenposten that some of the group “had lived and worked in Oslo for more than 10 years” and would not leave the capital, where many are active in their church and local politics. He said that they “have lost all hope” and “have no power.” He believes that “the police and the authorities are going to do whatever they want with us.” In terms of the group’s plans, Tadesse suggested that they would “maybe get to be here one more day, maybe one month or two, we don’t know, but we will keep together as a group and we have nowhere else to go other than here.” He also stated that they had come to the church “because it is our refuge” but confirmed that “this time we will not go in.” Another protestor, speaking to newspaper Dagsavisen, asked whether Norway could move them to a “third country” as they “cannot go home.”
Official figures show that 150 Ethiopian asylum seekers received consent to remain in Norway during 2010, while 314 had their applications rejected.