Activists in Norway stand up for migrants drowning at sea

Activists in Norway stand up for migrants drowning at seaimage

07 May 2015

In response to the increasing number of migrants facing possible death on overcrowded boats fleeing Africa across the Mediterranean, Norwegian activists staged creative protests to bring attention to the crisis and to apply pressure on their government to up its response.

“The Norwegian government is doing as little as they can get away with here. And we’re trying to make sure they don’t get away with it,” said Rune Bergelund Steen, director of the Norwegian Centre Against Racism, at the April 29 protest where activists staged a “die-in” at the plaza in front of Stortinget, Norway’s parliament building.

Since the beginning of the year, some 5,000 migrants have drowned as their boats capsized in Mediterranean waters. In the worst such incident, an estimated 800 people died when their boat sank as it attempted to reach Italy.

Currently, Norway has pledged just two boats to join European Union efforts to patrol territorial waters, known as Operation Triton. But activists demanded a swifter and bigger response – not simply returning migrants to places where their lives are endangered, where they may again choose to risk death in another sea crossing.

“What we need is a full-scale broad rescue operation and anything less than that is shameful,” said Bergelund Steen.

“What we decide to do here – or not to do here – has the most direct consequences for whether people live or die.”

Many of the banners in Oslo’s May Day parade expressed solidarity with refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa. And on Monday, many of the same protesters from last week’s “die-in” returned to Stortinget with hundreds of paper boats. Local school children – many of them children of refugees -participated by making their own paper boats.

“People are running away from war and hunger and we have to do something now,” said Ingrid Aspelund of Norwegian People’s Aid who organised Monday’s protest.

“We want the government to send boats to the Mediterranean right now. Not in two weeks, not in two months, but now – today.”