Just a day after officials announced that another 1,242 refugees arrived in Norway last week, some farmers in the valley of Hallingdal urged immigration authorities to place many of them on Norwegian farms. The farms and families running them, they said, can provide shelter, food and support for the refugees, who in turn could help with needed chores.
“They (the refugees) could learn a lot more about Norwegian culture and the language than they do in a sterile asylum center,” farmer Kjetil Larsgard from Hallingdal told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Larsgard said his family would more than gladly take in refugees, who he thinks can be a great resource for the country. “And having direct, personal contact with a Norwegian farming family is much better than playing ping pong at a refugee center,” he told NRK.
One of his farming neighbours, Ole Bjørn Kleven, agreed and thinks the refugees would be welcomed and highly valued in agricultural communities, especially those faced with depopulation. The refugees could also make themselves useful right away, by helping out around the farm.
“Everyone who’s ever been involved with farming knows that there’s always more than enough to do,” Kleven told NRK. “That could be anything from clearing a field for stones to repairing a fence.” Larsgard wasn’t as concerned with getting a new source of labour, noting that farmers would have to arrange insurance and other formalities before anyone could work for them. The most important thing, he thinks, is to “open up our homes and include them in our communities, and activities when we have time off.”
Kleven also thinks that people who have fled war and misery in Syria, for example, need something more than just a small room to live in. “They also need someone who cares about them, and can talk to them, and I think that Norwegian farmers and the agricultural industry have a lot to offer,” he said. Norwegian farms, often located in scenic areas, could also provide some badly needed peace and quiet.
Siv Kjeldsrup of state immigration agency UDI, which is in charge of accommodating and resettling refugees, was positive to the farmers’ proposal. “I think that sounds like a very good idea, and that it’s wonderful so many are engaging themselves in all the refugees coming into the country,” she told NRK.
UDI officials, who are scrambling to find accommodation for the mostly Syrian refugees who continue to arrive in Norway, announced Tuesday that the state also has leased the Oslofjord Convention Center in Stokke to house new arrivals until they can be placed elsewhere. The center is owned by a foundation tied to the Brunstad Christian Church, formerly known as the evangelical organization Smiths Venner. “We are ready to meet the refugees with a smile and friendliness,” Stian Fuglset of the convention center told reporters at a press conference.
UDI said 2,800 refugees have arrived in Norway so far this month and repeated that as many as 20,000 are expected by the end of this year. More than 5,000 who already have been granted asylum are also waiting for resettlement.