Palestinian refugees in Norway – living in squalor in squatter camps

Here is the tale of the Palestinina refugees who came to Norway thinking they would be well taken care of. This is also the story of a Lebanese young woman, born in Lebanon, with Lebanese passport, who, for political reasons, chooses to define herself as a Palestinian?

Am I the only person who thinks both of these stories show the utter falseness of Norwegians and others with a chip on their shoulder? And did the Lumiere brothers come to Palestine of Fatah and Hamas, or did they go to a town where Jews were in majority (according to a Prussian census) although Egyptian Muslims and immigrants from North Africa began to settle the town in order to gain influence?

Telling little lies, one little drip at a time, can slowly over time be perceived as truth. Maybe we should show the pictures showing Jewish life and culture in Israel, around the same time as the Lumiere brothers came to visit?

Life in Limbo

TONE B. VÆRVÅGEN, Published: 07.10.11 10:23

Piece of Palestine in Oslo - makeshift refugee camp

– We want to show another Palestine than the one we know from the media, showing only blood and murder, says Rana Issa (34).

She arranges the Palestinian Night Film From the South Festival.

– I do not need a movie like Tears of GAza. If I want to see  dying Palestinian children, I can see it on the news,  Issa says .

She is one of several Palestinians organizing the short film program Palestinian Night, where a cultural line is drawn all the way back to around teh time when film was born, when in 1897 the Lumiere brothers came to Palestine to film. One of the Lumiere short films are on the program.

– We want to create a cultural awareness of Palestine, for culture is the most important thing we have. We do not have a country, so it is culture that binds us together. And it is through culture that people can see things with different eyes.

Enormous differences

– One can not generalize about how the average Palestinian life is. It depends on where you grew up and whether you have passports or travel documents, Issa says.

She grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, both her parents were active in the PLO. She is among the lucky ones, relatively speaking. She is married to a Norwegian and have legal residence in Norway. The two met at university in Lebanon, where he received his master’s in Arabic.

Today, Issa is studying for her  Ph.D. in Arabic literature at the University of Oslo. She believes that being a Palestinian is a political choice.
– I have a Lebanese passport, I live in Norway and have a wonderful life. I do not need to be Palestinian, but I choose to be. It is an honor! To be Palestinian is to fight – to fight for a country and a normal life.

Palestinian refugees toughing it out, preferring tents to the asylum seekers center
Faith in Norway

The difference in how life pans out for Palestinians, is easy to spot and that in the heart of Oslo. While Jens Stoltenberg speaks the Palestinian cause in the UN, 23 Palestinian men live in a makeshift tent camp, 150 meters from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration’s (UDI) offices in Hausmannsgate 21 in Oslo.

Norway’s self-imposed role as peacemaker in the Middle East has led the Palestinians to believe that Norway will take them in with open arms. In the West Bank and Gaza people  talk about Norway as “the best country in the world for human rights and democracy.”

– But here all of my dreams and hopes have been shattered, says Said Alhilow (23). He comes from Gaza, has lived in Norway for 18 months and has received a final rejection of the application for a residence permit, like the others in the camp.

– Gaza is not safe! The West Bank is not safe! I will not be the third brother who is killed in our family. I was stateless, now I’m also paperless.

Non-compliance with UN recommendations

In 2009 the government tightened the rules for asylum. The general application of protection from return for Palestinians was terminated. UDI does not follow the UN recommendations for the return of the Palestinians because they believe it is not dangerous there any longer. Several of the squatters claim they will be killed if they return. They cannot divulge the reasons for fear of of putting others in danger.

The Immigration authorities rules state that “The security situation in the West Bank and Gaza is still marked by violent clashes between the Israeli army and militant Palestinian factions.”

Better than at the refugee reception center

All of a sudden, a sound as if a rifle was fired over our heads.  It’s chestnuts from the trees around that slam into the tarpaulin. The noise, the rats, the weather – how can one live like this?
– When we arrived, no one knew each other from before. Now we are brothers, says Ashraf Khoffash (26). He, like most others in the camp has lived here since the 5th April.

Days here can be hard and difficult. But still it is better than at the refugee reception center, for the mental health. They have at least a community, both with each other, people who help them and random passers-by.

– Norwegians are good people. But they are shy and weary of intruding. We try to break the ice and invite for a cup of tea. We discuss with them. Some agree with us, not others, it’s okay. We have at least the opportunity to explain to people why we are here. By gathering here in this camp we try to take responsibility for our own destiny, says Mohamed Ganan (26) from Gaza.

Resourceful

– Most of us have university degrees. We are people with resources, we can contribute to the Norwegian society. We are not asking for alms, but an opportunity to work, says Ganan. He is a graduate engineer. Others we talk to are trained sociologists, journalists, economists and interior designers.

– Life is very difficult as paperless, for you have no rights, you can not get work or residence, says Dana Mahmoud (33). She and her 60 years old mother are Palestinian Iraqis. They have also been rejected, but the government has nowhere to send them to. Hence, they still live at the asylum seekes reception center. They visit the camp as often as they can.
– My mother wanted us to stay here, but the boys said that it would be too cold and too humiliating for an older lady to live that way.

– We will fight to stay, but not by using violence. We came here to escape the violence said Ganan. – We want to demonstrate peacefully. The demonstration is called Freedom March.

On 19th of  October they organize a 24 hour culture festival. Anybody who would like to try, are welcome to spend a day in camp.