Utøya cleared as volunteerism grows

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Police have begun clearing items left behind on Utøya island, the scene of a mass shooting on Friday July 22 that has killed 69 people so far. Ordinary Norwegians continue to show a willingness to volunteer in a variety of organizations in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that rocked the nation.

Utøya island is now being cleared. Volunteers are already planning to return to restore the Labour Youth centre. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Representatives of the Criminal Police Centre (Kripos), the Mobile Police (Utrykningspolitiet, UP) and the local police began clearing the island Tuesday and sorting through possessions left by those attending a Labour Party summer camp that came under attack. It will take at least until Friday to complete the work. UP has contributed around 50 people to the work, with the head of the service, Runar Karlsen, describing the work to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as “extra demanding since all the possessions must be handled with dignity.”

Police hold electronic equipment
The police have been in close contact with the Labour Party and the Labour Youth (AUF) regarding what will happen with items cleared. The leaders of the investigation visited the island last Friday to plan the work there going forward. Karlsen told NRK that “some will be secured as evidence, some will be delivered back to those who own them or next of kin, and some will be destroyed.”

Karlsen described being out at Utøya as “intense,” calling it “a very difficult task” even for veteran police officers.

All electronic equipment found on the island will be treated as evidence. It is believed that some of those who were on the island took pictures or otherwise used their phones to record Breivik’s actions or movements. Hjort Kraby described the material that might be stored electronically on the island as “central” to the investigation.

Thousands join voluntary organizations
As the police work continues, many civilian Norwegians are wondering how they can help. A Facebook group already exists with the aim of returning to Utøya and restoring the island. Large numbers have joined organizations like the Red Cross and Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp), which have played visible and important roles in the aftermath of the attacks. The Red Cross in particular has received countless messages from those who want to help locally, as well as 400 new members centrally – many of whom are young.

Even organizations not directly related to the work around the terrorist attacks have reported increased volunteerism. The Night Ravens – volunteer groups that patrol city streets in order to reduce crime and keep communities safe – are one such group. Amnesty International Norway also experienced five times the normal membership growth in the week after the attacks than in a normal holiday week. The campaign group’s general secretary, John Peder Egenæs, told NRK that he sees this “as a sign that Amnesty stands for the values people want to shed light on, and that are contrary to what the perpetrator wanted.”

Donations to charities and other voluntary sector groups have also markedly grown, while all political parties report increasing membership. Political involvement is also likely to increase, with 81 percent of those polled by newspaper VG saying they would definitely vote in the upcoming local elections. The last local elections in 2007 saw a 61.2 percent turnout.

Blood donors have also increased, with 1,000 new donors in Oslo and 1,000 more across the rest of Norway, especially after a shortage of blood was widely reported in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. So many have come forward that Blood Bank Oslo is still in the process of getting in contact with new donors.

Armband controversy
Not all new initiatives following the attacks have been welcomed, however. One website apparently run by a plumbing firm began selling armbands in memory of the terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, strong criticism of the site was reported after it emerged that just NOK 5 (USD 0.90) per NOK 129 (USD 23.9) armband would be donated towards helping the victims. The sellers increased the amount to NOK 10 and later NOK 35, although they are yet to specify where they will send the money. An anonymous spokesperson for the website told broadcaster TV2 that he had received death threats and abusive messages from members of the public following the negative coverage.

AUF and the company in charge of maintaining Utøya island have distanced themselves from the sales, stating they were not informed of the project in advance.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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