Sunday, November 25, 2007

Church asylum

When you come to Norway illegally and then report yourself to the police, seeking asylum because you expect to be tortured to death if you're sent back to your home country, a long process starts where they try to find out if you're telling the truth about who you are and the risk of being tortured. Some times they believe you, and you get to stay on humanitarian grounds. Other times, they decide that they don't believe you and send you back to your home country.

Some times, people who are supposed to be sent back get to stay anyway, because international agreements block Norway from sending civilians to war zones.

Some times, people who are sent back are arrested at upon arrival, put in prison and tortured to death.

And some times, people who are supposed to be sent back run head over heels to the nearest church, where police is not allowed to arrest them. As long as they are within the church's property, they are safe. This is called church asylum.

While this sounds like a sweet deal for asylum seekers who have had their application refused by the Norwegian government, consider this: You have to stay inside all the time. Your liberty of movement ends the moment you step outside. You're actually in a form of prison, and you'll either be there for the rest of your life, or you'll be sent home to face your torturers.

Some claim that people who seek church asylum are actually lying about their background. After all, only a certain percentage of asylum seekers who are sent back by the Norwegian government actually turn out to have told the truth. But imagine to stay inside this one church day after day, month after month, year after year.

After staying in church asylum for seven years, Shahla was considering suicide (sounds ironic, but probably better than bein stoned to death), so friends and activists wanted a demonstration in front of the Norwegian parliament. And they wanted Shahla to take part in the demonstration. But how could they make this possible without Shahla being arrested? Then they had a brilliant idea: Let's build a mobile church!

Church asylum in Norway 2007 (Photo: Olav Nygård / Filadelfia)

The mobile church was blessed right before Shahla was moved on board for her trip to Oslo. Half way to Oslo, they got a message from the review board of the foreigner directorate that they had granted Shahla amnesty while the directorate review her case again. So while she now has the liberty of moving outside the church for a little while, there is still a chance that the directorate will repeat their refusal of her application and she'll hide behind the doors of a church again.

I don't know about you, but I would be really desparate to hide in a church for seven years. I'll be watching this case - media coverage allowing. (Some stories DO tend to just disappear out of sight.)

1 comment:

Hjörtur said...

Great story. I'll be checking back on you to get updates.