Refugees going hungry in Norway

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Nearly half of all the refugee residents of asylum centers in Norway are often hungry, while 90 percent also say they lack access to enough food or nutritious food. A study by OsloMet, a state university in Oslo, released the findings on Monday and called them “worrisome.”

Norway has shut down many of the asylum centers set up during the refugee influx of 2015, when more than 30,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn areas arrived around the country. Many still live in the centers still remaining, along with more recent arrivals, while waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. PHOTO: UDI/Hero

“In a country like Norway, it’s worrisome that such a large portion (of asylum seekers) say they have difficulty acquiring enough food,” researcher Sigrid Henjum told Nowegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. She and colleague Laura Terragni interviewed 205 adult residents at eight asylum centers in southeastern Norway last year. All of them must buy their own food and prepare it at the facilities where they live.

NRK reported that asylum seekers are granted NOK 2,447 (USD 302) per person per month to pay for all essentials, including food, clothing, transport, telephone and such items as shampoo or toothpaste. Mohamed Bakr, a 19-year-old refugee from Syria who lives at an asylum center in Hobøl south of Oslo, said he can manage if he budgets and sets strict priorities. The dishes he makes are simple, he said: “Tomato sauce with onion, oil and egg,” along with potatoes.

Has only eaten fish once
Asked whether he ever eats fish or meat, he said he had not had much opportunity but had tried fish once in Norway, claiming “it was good.” Asylum center leader Ruth Kielland said she has observed that most of the residents eat a lot of pasta and rice because it’s cheap.

“Especially the young men, who don’t set food as their highest priority,” Kielland told NRK. “Like most other young men, they want to fit in, have some clothes.” Some also spend money on cigarettes, she said, because they have a smoking habit and because it can be viewed as part of what little social life they have. Many simply sit and smoke together.

Researcher Sigrun Henjum said the study found that asylum center residents ate much less, and less-varied, food than most Norwegians. Fresh food including fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and dairy products were especially lacking in the refugees’ diets as they waited for their asylum applications to be processed.

She and Terragni also noted that residents of the asylum centers must share a common kitchen “that’s not especially inviting. Many don’t even have a dining table.” Henjum thinks their diets can only improve if they’re granted more money, better training in how to prepare some healthy but reasonably priced food, and introduction of measures to make mealtime more social.

Men never learned to cook
Terragni noted that the single men living in asylum centers suffer the most. “They have a hard time planning meals and some of the men simply can’t cook,” she said. They come from cultures where women were mostly responsible for preparing food, and they simply never learned to shop for or prepare meals. Being in a foreign country and struggling with the language and packaging makes grocery shopping a challenge as well.

The two researchers said refugee families were better off, but around 20 percent still said they were occasionally hungry. It was more important for the adults to make sure the children could eat, instead of themselves.

NRK noted how Norway’s conservative government, which is trying to limit immigration and refugee arrivals, has cut funding for asylum seekers. Those whose asylum applications are rejected already receive much less than NOK 2,447 a month, since they’re expected to leave the country.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund