Camp Refugee

Refugee Norway: Teenagers Brave Life As A Refugee For A Day At ‘Camp Refugee’

Groups of youngsters in Norway are regularly experiencing what it is like to be a refugee – lost in the cold, snowy forest, with no shelter and no food – at “Camp Refugee.”

Have you ever wondered exactly what it would be like to be a refugee, huddled in the cold with nowhere to go and nothing to eat? A group of Norwegian teenagers have just had a taste of what it would be like to do just that – spending 24 hours in a snowy forest in Norway with no comfort, no tech, no heating and no food at what has been dubbed Camp Refugee.

As the teenagers try to rest in the forest in the icy cold, two military vehicles come along with wailing sirens, waking anyone who has managed to fall asleep. While they are all exhausted, the “refugees” must immediately pack up camp and leave, resuming their night march through the snow.

This might sound like a story unraveling in the Balkans somewhere, but it actually happens in a country where most teenagers have the latest iPhones, fashions and everything they need for a comfortable life. The Camp Refugee experience gives teenagers an insight into the lives of millions of people in the world who are far less privileged than they are and who are struggling to barely survive.

For many of the teenagers, what is dubbed Camp Refugee is part of their coming-of-age ceremony, a special rite of passage for 15-year-old boys and girls in northern Europe. For all of them, it is an experience that teaches about how others are struggling to live in the harsh conditions of today’s world.

As part of their experience, the “UN camp” where they thought they would be safe for the night gets “attacked,” forcing them back on their feet to carry on. They stumble through the darkness, with temperatures at around zero degrees, trying to ignore their grinding hunger and diving into snow banks to hide from the lights of passing vehicles.

It all started around 12 hours before at a former military camp outside Oslo airport, ironically very close to a very real detention center, intended for illegal aliens waiting to be deported from Norway.

They first hand in their watches and their cell phones and then the teenagers are placed in groups, or “families,” of 20. In the scenario they play out, the families have to flee unrest in a fictitious Sudan, where they are forced to cross imaginary borders to reach Norway, hoping to seek asylum.

Along the way they experience the typical red tape of a corrupt bureaucracy, are bullied by sinister border guards shouting orders at them as they stand holding out their IDs, all the while tired and constantly hungry.

Yahoo News quotes one “refugee” as dreaming of “Netflix in the bath.” Another adds, “Netflix and a kebab in the bath,” but in real life, the teens had only a couple of rice balls for their evening meal, taken from a package with an apparent expiry date of 1998.

At first, it is an adventure for the teenagers, something they would never have dreamed of doing before; but, as the hours go by, their laughter fades and swearing and cursing begins as the hunger and tiredness sinks in.

Ebbe Marienborg Schieldrop, a teenager playing the role of a father, said the experience was, “Horribly tough.”

“It’s obviously much worse for real refugees, but the hunger, the fatigue, all of it… It’s exhausting.”

Ironically, the idea of “playing refugee” is not a new one, as the concept of Camp Refugee started in Denmark back in 2004. Since then, around 80,000 Norwegian teenagers have gone through the harrowing experience of living life as a refugee for a day.

With the current and ongoing migration crisis in Europe over this past year, the role play has taken on a new level and a particular resonance with the normally privileged youngsters.

According to Lasse Moen Sorensen, deputy head of the non-profit organization Refugee Norway, the teenagers leave with a “little extra soul.”

While the actual experience suffered by the thousands of refugees on the move in the world today is far worse, Refugee Norway certainly raises awareness to their plight.

As reported by Breitbart, Kenneth Johansen, the founder of Refugee Norway said, “If you read about refugees, you’ll remember about 20 percent. And if you experience it, you’ll remember 80 percent. You will learn it for the rest of your life.”

Johansen tells the youngsters that if they see a news segment or read about what is happening to groups of refugees, they will remember the feeling they had at Camp Refugee.

The 24-hour harrowing experience reportedly ends with a review, where Johansen helps the teenagers put things into perspective, showing them hard-hitting videos of the real refugees to make his point.

He tells them never to forget the night they spent outdoors, illegally heading across borders in the icy cold with their backpacks, being yelled at by the military. Johansen says that is what around 60 million genuine refugees are living through each and every day.

He ends by telling the exhausted teenagers that for them, it was a game at Camp Refugee, but for the refugees themselves, it is Hell on Earth, every day of their lives.

[Photo via Flickr by Matt Hintsa cropped and resized/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]