Norwegian teens “play refugees” for a day
Teenagers from all over Norway are traveling to the icy forests of Trandum Camp, also known as “Camp Refugee” in hopes of experiencing a day in the life of a refugee. The camp was originally founded by the organization, Refugee Norway, in efforts to address an overwhelming intolerance exhibited towards foreigners and to challenge Norwegian teenagers to connect with refugees on a more humane level. Norway, one of the richest countries in the world, remains a predominantly homogenous society that has yielded little consolation for incoming refugees. Involvement with Camp Refugee is thus considered to be a civil coming-of-age ceremony amongst many teenagers, as the program seeks to expand Norwegians’ perspectives and ability to relate to those who are less fortunate than them. The teenagers learn about such hardships by acting as refugees for the duration of 24 hours.
The journey begins with the confiscation of luxury accessories such as watches, purses, and cell phones; and subsequently the formation of twenty member refugee families. The teenagers are tasked with the “mission” of escaping fictitious civil unrest in efforts to cross an imaginary border into the safe haven, Norway. Throughout the 24 hours, the teenagers must confront subzero temperatures, limited food servings, violent border guards, and a constant fear of deportation. Although the Camp mission is to “give the participants an opportunity to establish connections through play, fun and joint adventure” the teenagers quickly learn that the life of a refugee is far from “fun.”
Although some teenagers spent their time dreaming of “Netflix in the bath” or “Netflix AND kebab in the bath” the overarching sentiment, as stated by one teen, was that “the experience is horribly touching… obviously much worse for real refugees, but the hunger, the fatigue, all of it… It’s exhausting.” Upon completion of the camp, Kenneth Johansen, founder of the program Refugee Norway, challenges the teenagers to reflect on their experience: "Never forget this night you spent outdoors, crossing borders with your backpacks and all the yelling. That's what 60 million real refugees are living through everyday…For you, it was a game. For them, it’s hell on Earth everyday.” Although the simulation does not evince the severity of the current refugee crisis, it ultimately seeks to raise societal awareness in hopes of sending teenagers home with more compassion and ‘a little extra soul.’
Apart from this role-playing experience, Norwegian teenagers receive little exposure to the refugee crisis occurring throughout the world due to their government’s strict ‘No Visa, No Entry’ asylum policies. In December 2015, the Norwegian government passed a new set of immigration laws aimed towards stopping refugees from entering their country. Unlike many of their European counterparts, Norway has generated inhospitable immigration policies that repress refugees from entering their country and claiming asylum. Although the Human Development Index voted Norway as one of the best countries to live in, the country appears to be seemingly unattractive to refugees and migrants. Ebeltoft, a Norwegian refugee activist, states,“It is impossible now to seek asylum in Norway unless you swim here from the Middle East.” Out of the 31,145 refugees who sought asylum in Norway last year, 805 withdrew their application and thousands have been “returned” to the Russian border. Although the Norwegian government remains in the international spotlight for controversial immigration policies, the refugee camps such as Trandum Camps aspire to foster an increased level of compassion amongst Norway’s younger generations.