Saturday, February 09, 2013

Marginalizing people

Back in September, I visited a Danish refugee camp together with a group of other people. The reason I went there, was that I wanted to get a better understanding of how Denmark treats refugees who have come to the country.

Refugee camps are places where people claiming refugee status live until their cases have gone through the process. Until recently, these people were not allowed to live outside those camps - a new law has loosened up those requirements, but the majority still have to live there, as there is no-where else for them to live.

Refugee camps are usually set up in old institution, such as former mental hospitals and foster homes, or in old military compounds.

I am, and have always been, against refugee camps for a number of reasons, the most important being that they marginalizes the people living there. People living in refugee camps are not living in a normal setting, and they cannot do a lot of everyday things the rest of us takes for granted. 

My visit to the camp made this even more clear to me. We visited a camp called Avnstrup, which is about an hour away from Copenhagen going by train and bus. Half an hour on each.

The above picture is of the bus schedule, which shows when the buses departs from Avnstrup - it is also the times when the bus arrives. This is the only bus which goes to Avnstrup, and for most people, there are no other means of transportation to and from the camp. 

I took the picture because I think it clearly shows how hard it is for people living there to go out and do anything - e.g. during the weekends, the bus only runs every three hours, and for a very limited period of the day. On Sundays, the first bus is at 12 and the last is at 9 PM - if you take into account the time spent on transportation, it only gives people 7 hours if they want to go into Copenhagen.

On weekdays, the last bus also runs at 9 PM, which means that if you've spent the day at some kind of study in Copenhagen, you won't really have time to do anything else than hurry home.

This is clearly a horrible way of getting people to integrate into society - keeping them isolated from it. Unfortunately, to some politicians, that's feature, not a bug.

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Blogger Unknown said...

First time I lived in Avnstrup I was 17. It was winter. When I try to remember back to this time first memories that come up are darkness - the camp surrounded by a forest, feelings of cold and loneliness, even though I was always surrounded by strangers. The camp was overcrowded by that time and everyone will meet everybody else in a food-line several few a day. The food was horrible. Dishwashing was run by volunteers. There was this Muslim guy who almost couldn't any English. I think he was responsible for turning a dishwasher when it was full. He called himself Machine Boss and was obviously proud of his status. Sometimes when being watched he would put himself next to the dishwasher, smile, glide his hand gently on the surface and say ’My machine’. With this long ’my’ that would take a few seconds: ’My machine’.

There was an epidemy of chickenpox at that time and there was also a rumor of somebody sick with Hepatitis A due to closed off section on one of the floors. I got chickenpox. At first I have shared a room with some women as a minor. There have been this old toothless Armenian woman with her daughter and a baby-grandchild. So it was me and this child with chickenpox. It also had colics so it would cry day and night out, cry with a piercing sound that cut right through the years. So chickenpox was a bad thing but it was a blessing in disguise. I would complain in administration that I had to go naked around the room for applying chickenpox medication but I couldn't do it because of the women. They had assigned me to a separate room. A very small dark corner room that was so cold that I had to have my sweather on all the time. The room was opposite to a small cleaning depot and outside in the hall I would sometimes chat to a Danish ISS-man – a young blond guy in coveralls who was surprised and a little wary about me being able to speak his language. Right before the spring my time in Avnstrup was over and with a day’s notice I was transferred to another camp and new challenges – in Northern Jutland.

My second time in Avnstrup was a year and a half later. It was a different place. Summer. People was allowed to cook their own food in a newly installed kitchens. The forest was fine. On one of the walks I have scared a big number of roe deers, never before have I seen them up close. I remember visiting a library in Roskilde and going to Copenhagen sometimes. If there was no bus on the way back I would walk. I walked a lot. Sometimes to save a few coins. Allerød st. to Sandholm, Frederiksværk st. to Auderød, once in the night Nykøbing Falster to Nysted-camp. On one of my walks back to Avnstrup I had spotted this big beautiful rosebush in front of one village houses. I had returned later with scissors from a kitchen, snicked to it and cut a single flower. I shared a room with some loud but kind Bosnians. They had a free bed and they allowed me to stay. In my other room with former Soviets I stayed only one night, - drunk, dopey with hashish and sometimes violent collective with a rigid pecking order scared me away pretty fast. Sometimes it pays off to be strategically violent, - people involved in a conflict would be shipped off to a different center, and nobody complains to the police. In people’s minds police is connected with forced deportations I guess. Even now many years later I am still very aware of an eventual police presence. When summer was coming to an end I was moved again, this time to Lolland, I was a little more then a year away from the time when I got a right to a residentship in Denmark.

February 09, 2013 9:10 PM  

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