Speaking for Ourselves

Margret Olin: Where is home?

Margret Olin: Where is home?


 Migrant Voice - Margret Olin: Where is home?

Margreth Olin is one of Norways most influential film makers and journalists. For over 15 years her documentaries have shone a light into the darkest corners of humanity. Margreth has exposed attitudes towards groups that are often made to feel voiceless within society, including people dealing with addiction, disabled people, and refugees.  A stark campaigner for reform, she has become as well known politically as she is culturally and has been awarded the Amnesty International award for her contribution to human rights for six consecutive years. Here she speaks to Migrant Voice about her career to date and the subject of her latest film, Nowhere Home, which follows the lives of four children seeking asylum in Norway. In 2009, Norway, sought to reduce immigration, and reviewed its policies on unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC). Children would only be granted permission to stay in the country temporarily, until their 18th birthday. After this, they would either be granted an extension on their stay, or face deportation. Social workers would determine the age of the child, placing those deemed to be over 15 in reception centres until they were old enough to be deported. There is no scientifically supported method of correct age assessment; despite countries like Sweden relying on dental records which cannot prove exact age. Social workers are known to work under a 'culture of disbelief' which leads to situations where young people are age disputed and as a result have access to less services that should be available to them as part of the UN children's human rights.  Norway was not the only country to apply this model, which is also implemented in the UK, as a means to reducing asylum figures. It took a year of persistence on Margreth’s part before she was finally given permission to film at a reception centre in Salhus, near Bergen. “The authorities wanted to stop me for as long as they could. When Salhus finally agreed they got involved and recommended they withdraw access.” Margreth has previously headed a number of successful media campaigns on behalf of children facing deportation to dangerous situations, and is acutely aware of the power of the press to influence decision makers. She delivered Salhus an ultimatum. “I asked them to give me access, or we could have a conversation in the news, about why they could not.” Shortly after, she began filming, following four boys, Hassan, Husein, Goli and Khalid, as they nervously awaited their 18th birthdays. Hassan fled Afghanistan after his family were murdered. His brother, Husein, survived the attack, despite being stabbed in the stomach and left to die. The brothers travelled 3000 miles before reaching Norway. They crossed borders hidden on the back of lorries, travelling wherever smugglers were willing to take them. Hassan was 13. His fast deteriorating brother was 12 years old. Husein’s introduction in the film is troubling. He stares vacantly down the lens. His eyes are fearful, haunted, his memories plainly difficult to escape. Like most other UASC, Husein never came into contact with the person who assessed his application to extend his stay in Norway, something Margreth hopes to change. “I’m working hard for face to face meetings (with decision makers). They need to see the child. If you meet Husein his eyes would tell his story.” Goli had suffered years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather. With no system in place to protect him, he left Kurdistan when he was 14 and came to Norway. Margreth met him shortly after he was released from prison, following an assault he committed as a minor. He had been held in Ila, a maximum security prison, where serial killer Anders Breivik is now detained. “Goli was due to be released 6 weeks before turning 18. He tried to hang himself three times and almost succeeded. Instead of giving him support they placed him in a sparse room where everything was bolted down. The last month he was there they only kept him so that they had a (live) person to return (to Kurdistan).” Nowhere Home follows Goli after his deportation, where he once again risks his life crossing the border from Kurdistan into Turkey. The last we see of him is in Athens, where he is living on the streets with other refugees. Since the filming, he has been imprisoned for smoking cannabis and is now detained in Petrou Ralli, a detention centre in Athens. “I visited the prison. They never go outside… Cells hold between six and 30 people. Inmates have open wounds, scabies. There are no toilets. In the cell it’s like a madhouse; people are crying, screaming. Such a mix of people, some with mental health problems, they are all there because there is nowhere else to put them”. Margreth explained. Goli came to Norway as a child, but was never given the freedom to grow up. Travelling alone from Kurdistan, to Turkey, to Greece, to Norway, and back again, various authorities have succeeded in keeping him just alive, only to place him back in life threatening situations. His story in particular, highlights the vulnerability of a child who is truly alone in the world. Nowhere Home sets out to ‘scrutinize one of Europe’s major moral dilemmas’ - how to deal with lone children, escaping dangerous situations in their home countries. What it actually achieves is more significant than that: it highlights the human consequence of these dilemmas, and questions whether morality was ever considered at all. In 2011, Norway, along with the UK, Denmark and Sweden took further measures to restrict entry for UASC. They created a scheme called ERPUM (European Returns Platform for Unaccompanied Minors). Under this scheme, the government would no longer have to wait until a child reached 18 to deport them, and could return lone children to their country of origin as minors. Critics have slammed the scheme, claiming it compromises the safety of children, who may be returning to dangerous situations. The stories of separated and unaccompanied children in the UK are widely untold leaving them more vulnerable to discrimination. The UK provides a majority of its unaccompanied child asylum seekers with discretionary leave to remain which keeps children in a constant state of uncertainty about their future. The NSPCC demonstrate that in the past five years roughly 290 young people received an extension of discretionary leave out of a total of 5,280 decisions. By removing these young people earlier and earlier their chance of a positive transition to adulthood is dramatically reduced. The world's children are not exempt from the harsh reality of adult life - less so if they are left to face their reality alone, rejected by the countries in which they have struggled so hard to have their voice heard. For details of where you can watch the movie, visit: https://www.facebook.com/NowhereHomeMovie Facts: According to figures by the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) Over the past 5 years only 1% of all unaccompanied children who have fled their homes and arrived to the UK have been given humanitarian protection. If children are mistaken for adults and treated as such , they can be detained, transferred to another EU country under the Dublin II Regulation6 or, if their asylum is refused, returned to the country of origin or left destitute and vulnerable in the UK. Age disputed asylum seeking children are not able to access mainstream education or foster care. Age disputed children and over 15's who are put into semi-independent living are far more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder - as demonstrated by a recent report by Oxford University. Article by: Tracey Manners Photo by:    

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