In the midst of Norway’s biggest influx of refugees since the Balkan War, groups of small Norwegian children have been making a unique contribution towards easing local integration challenges.
Armed with their toys, stuffed animals and curiosity about the new kids moving in next door to their day care center in Oslo, groups of pre-schoolers have been visiting an asylum reception center in the city’s Torshov district. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that they simply grew impatient with only seeing their equally small and far less confident counterparts through the fence separating their playground from the asylum center.
Accompanied by several of their grown-up minders, the children trooped over to the center, shared their toys and invited the refugee children, mostly from Syria, to play. After some initial hesitation, Aftenposten reported, children like April, William and Embret were soon playing with Ibrahim, Alad and Limal.
“The (Norwegian) children kept asking where the new children on the other side of the fence were from, what their names were and why they weren’t in school or at our day care center,” Malin Ellingsen, leader of the Torshov barnehagen (kindergarten), told Aftenposten. “There were times when they would point at themselves and say their names, and soon the refugee children were doing the same.”
After making it clear they wanted more contact and to have their questions answered, the day care center children were allowed to visit the asylum center, and now more regular cooperation is underway. The refugee parents welcome the initiative and are relieved to see their children playing again. One Syrian mother said her family’s flight took more than a month and involved long stretches of simply walking through Europe.
“Now we just want to feel safe, with no war,” she told Aftenposten as she watched her seven-year-old son Alad tentatively communicate with his new Norwegian friends, and get the message across that he liked to play football and to draw pictures.
Jorid Dalsegg Bertelsen, leader of the asylum center, said the Norwegian children benefit from the contact as well. “They get an insight into a completely different world, now just 20 meters away,” she said, “while the refugee children get an impression of what Norwegian children are like.” They’re all discovering that the lack of a common language is no major hindrance for the children, perhaps proving that the essence of playtime is universal.