Refugees seek refuge in cathedral

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Around 100 Ethiopian refugees whose applications for asylum in Norway have been rejected marched to the Oslo Cathedral (Domkirken) on Monday and many then sought refuge inside. They’ve since launched hunger strikes in the hopes of winning legal residence permission.

Oslo's historic cathedral is currently housing around 50 hunger-striking refugees from Ethiopia. PHOTO: Views and News

More than 50 Ethiopians remained camped inside the nearly 400-year-old cathedral on Tuesday, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The cathedral is still undergoing renovation indoors so their living conditions are far from comfortable, with a lack of sanitation facilities and cold stone floors and pews for makeshift beds.

Olav Dag Hauge, head pastor at the cathedral, said he and his staff had little to offer the rejected refugees but would put forth water and food for those willing to eat or drink. The cathedral has recently undergone several years of major renovations, but the work is not finished yet inside because of budget constraints.

“The crypt still needs work and that’s where the toilets, warm water supplies and kitchen are,” Hauge told newspaper Aftenposten. With only one working toilet at present, “it can quickly become a crisis here,” Hauge said. He planned to have meetings on Tuesday with officials from Norway’s child protective services and other social welfare agencies to decide how to handle the situation.

The Ethiopians seem determined in their cause. Around 400 of their supporters demonstrated on Monday to protest the handling of their asylum applications by Norwegian immigration officials. The rejected refugees claim they have not been evaluated individually.

“We live in fear that we’ll be sent back,” Bizualem Beza, a spokesperson for the group, told Aftenposten. “We believe our applications haven’t been properly handled.”

Immigration authorities dispute that, with Hanne Jendal of immigration agency UDI claiming they have been thoroughly evaluated. “They have received individual and thorough treatment at all levels,” Jendal told Aftenposten. “There’s never been any collective evaluation of this group.”

Beza hopes the authorities will review their cases again. “Many of us have lived here for many years,” Beza said. “We have worked, started families and found homes. Suddenly all that may be taken away.” Beza claims the refugees fear harassment or worse back in Ethiopia because of their own or their family members’ political ties.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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