OSLO/STAVANGER: Ethiopian Asylum Seekers are on hunger strike at Oslo Cathedral protesting against the UDI’s (Norwegian Immigration Bureau) handling of their cases.
Close to a hundred Ethiopians defied the cold, snowy weather to take part in a demonstration, yesterday, chanting ‘justice’ in front of the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget). They gathered in a bid to get the attention of the government for a better asylum rights and fair handling of their asylum cases.
The hunger strike coordinators told The Foreigner Ethiopian asylum seekers’ cases are evaluated unfairly.
“They are not being seen properly. Even if we are not granted a residence permit, we were allowed to work, but now that has become impossible. The tax office has stopped issuing us tax papers. So we are forced to live in the street,” said an anonymous Ethiopian asylum seeker.
After handing over a letter of appeal to the Norwegian Parliament, the demonstrators marched on to the cathedral, where they started the hunger strike. Church authorities decided to close the building for other visitors when they learnt the refugees were determined not to leave.
Fikru Tadesse/The Foreigner – Demonstrators claim they will be prosecuted and their lives are at risk if they return to their homeland. Solomon Zegeye, representing the asylum seekers, told reporters at the cathedral it is not safe for them to return home, alleging the Ethiopian government intimidates and tortures opposition members.
“Our country is under the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. We are here in Norway because we fear for our lives as our government is not a democratic one”, he said.
Close to 40 Ethiopians also gathered outside the cathedral and held a vigil with candles to show their solidarity with their fellow brothers and sisters. Some banners held by supporters read, “We are not criminals”, “Norway should respect UN conventions”, “We demand justice”.
Church authorities say they are worried about the situation and are still working on a possible solution. Head of the cathedral Olav Dag Hauge hopes the hunger strike come to an end soon. He said the church is not sufficiently equipped to house all the demonstrators, with unfavorable conditions.
“We understand that the situation inside our church is quite serious as we have families with small children involved. We are contacting organizations that can help in this kind of extraordinary situation.”
Approximately 100 paperless Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers also gathered in Stavanger beneath the pouring rain, urging the government to reconsider the cases to the thousands of others in Norway. Many now sit at home without access to basic healthcare.
Socialist Left (SV) politician Eirik Faret Sakariassen, who was among those who held an appeal yesterday, told The Foreigner the situation for paperless refugees has always been precarious.
Demonstrants in Stavanger
©2011 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner“I know of one person who was kicked out of Norway for paying taxes illegally. Meanwhile, many people get to stay and don’t pay them at all,” he told The Foreigner.
In an attempt to strengthen the rights of paperless immigrants, his Party, together with the Liberals (V) and Christian Democrats (KrF), agreed on a modification to legislation, allowing them to apply for a work permit whilst still in Norway.
The deal came in an attempt to stop Caucasian Madina Salamova (‘Maria Amelie) being returned to Russia. Ms Salamova put a face to Norway’s some 18,000 illegal, paperless immigrants, and her case received huge public and media attention.
“She had the advantage of being a sweet, young girl with and education, whose boyfriend is a journalist working in Klassekampen,” said Mr Sakariassen.
He hopes the demonstrations in Oslo and Stavanger will keep the debate about finding a solution for this group going, however.
“Although it might not be the best solution for now, people must be given the possibility of returning to Norway, a chance of a new amnesty.”
According to the UDI’s statistics, 566 Ethiopians applied for asylum in Norway last year, of which 314 were rejected.
The UDI did not wish to comment on the demonstrations.