On the run: My story as a Refugee

by: Ole Hofsøy

As a former scout, I’ve had countless experiences I would never dream of, but although I can think of many interesting, fun and even scary events, there is ONE EXPERIENCE that gave me a push to the interest I have for INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS and HUMANITARTIAN WORK.

The year was 2005, I was 13 years old, and it was time for my first national camp (Free:05) for scouts. Finally, it was my time to meet thousands of scouts from all over the country, and even some who came all the way from other countries. A week with fun activities and new experiences.

Two times during the week the camp lasted, the camp would change focus to another theme. The camp opened with SKILL, before the focus changed to FREEDOM, and the camp ended with focus on FESTIVAL.

The focus on Freedom started on Tuesday. The organizer got together with the Norwegian Refugee Council and arranged a roleplay called «ON THE RUN». The scouts were made into refugees from Somalia, and the goal of the roleplay was to GET FROM SOMALIA TO NORWAY and apply for asylum.

Each participating group represented a family, and all participants got NEW IDENTITIES for the next two days. Each group also got a guide who would guide us until we came to the border, and the guides and the military forces would only speak English (remember that we were all young Norwegians). This would be more MENTALLY CHALLENGING than physical, so if it got to much to handle, we could «pull» an «emergency brake».

All over the route, there were military forces waiting to «catch» people. If you got caught, they would take your backpack unless you had any reasons why you needed to keep it, such as medicines. There were also some military posts which we had to go to, but there they wouldn’t catch us, but ask us about our family and give us different tasks to perform.

Soon after we started, we entered a big field where our guide told us to camp until we got any new instructions. After a little while, the GROUND STARTED SHAKING, and PEOPLE SCREAMED at the top of their lungs. A huge group of soldiers were here, CHASING US, so we had to get our stuff and run, we were not going to get caught!

Right before the first real military post (the border to another country), one of our group members twisted his foot. He didn’t want to quit, so we were told that if any soldiers caught us, we could tell them about the foot, and they would let us continue. After all, we couldn’t run very fast, but we should still try not to get caught.

At the military post, we got one minute to unpack our backpacks, and after they checked that we didn’t bring anything illegal across the border, we got one minute to pack our backpacks. Whatever we didn’t have time to pack, WE WOULD LOSE.

We managed to get across the border, but our guide didn’t come with us, from now on we had to manage to get further ON OUR OWN. The first that meets us is another military post. At this time, we were two in my group considering pulling the emergency brake, BOTH ONLY 13 Y EARS OLD. The rest of our group were older than us. Soldiers had spread all over an open area in the forest, and every family was sent to one soldier. When all soldiers were busy with a family, groups would be held back at the border. When we got sent to a soldier, we saw entire families doing jumping jacks, we heard people singing and some were RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES. We wouldn’t get away from this post without earning it.

Considering what we saw and heard, we were lucky with the soldier we got sent to. He acted like he was really angry, and threaten us with different tasks, but after a short thinking break – and I remember this like it was yesterday – he said: «I don’t know if I just like you, or if I’m very tired, but I’ll let you go. Take your things and run, if you’re not around the turn down the road in two minutes, I WILL SHOOT YOU.» We didn’t hesitate to get our things and run, even the guy with the twisted foot ran.

Now it started to get late, and everyone was TIRED AND HUNGRY. It had gone many hours since the last time we ate something, and everyone was ready for a break. Luckily, the next post was the last one for the day, and finally something else than a military post. As we closed in on the post, we saw a banner hanging over the forest road we followed. «Camp No Hope». Shortly after the banner, we met some humanitarian workers telling us that we were going to spend the night here at the refugee camp. Every family got a small area to stay inside, and we could not talk to anyone outside our group, because interacting with other families in refugee camps often comes with the risk of getting infected with MALARIA. I don’t remember too much of our stay there, as I fell asleep shortly after we arrived. After a few hours, I woke up to see that we finally had something to eat. A tiny portion of rice, but it was at least something. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by an alarm, and the humanitarian workers screamed that SOLDIERS WERE ON THEIR WAY, and that we have to get going.

We got a new guide, but he didn’t want to talk English, so we could more easily (in Norwegian) than we did the day before. People were running, and quickly we fell behind most of the other groups. We heard the soldiers closing in on us, so we decided to go up into a hill covered with rocks and tall grass. After two military cars and a group of soldiers had passed the hillside, we stood up to see better, and to sneak us down without getting caught, but suddenly a guy from another group whispered to us: «Shh, there’s two soldiers coming up the hillside with flash lights, SHUT UP AND LAY DOWN! We lay there for about ten minutes before we finally got going again. The next post we came to was a small village.

We had arrived Norway, finally.

Now we got some food, met health workers who checked us for diseases, and we applyed for asylum in Norway. We met a group of old women that checked our belongings to see what we brought in to Norway, and after we had been to all posts in the village, we were sent up a hill, to the FINISH LINE.

We got som food and warm drinks, and were told that we had to wait there until all groups came to the finish line before they could give us any information. When they finally came with the results, they told us a little bit about how it is to be a refguee, and that we They also told us how many pulled the emergency brake, and which families got asylum. I don’t remember how many families there were, but only two families got asylum. The DISAPPOINTMENT WAS INTENSE, after all this we didn’t even get asylum.

This was the first time I really got some knowledge about how it is to be a refugee, and even though this was hard for me as 13 year old boy who wasn’t fluent in English and not in the best physical shape, this wasn’t even close to .

At the Folk High School I attended, we had a BOY FROM SYRIA in our class who had managed to come all the way TO NORWAY FROM SYRIA. I had a really interesting talk with him where he told me his story. He ran away with his uncle and a group of other boys and men. They , didn’t have any food or water, they got caught several times by ARMED FORCES WHO KILLED MOST OF THE GROUP. I believe there were somewhere between 9 and 11 in the group, all having Norway as final goal. Four of them made it Italy, but two of them died in a car accident, and the only two survivors was the boy from my class and one other man. Finally he made it to Norway.

If I compare what I experienced with his experiences, I can see some similarities, but what he experiences so intense and terrifying. In two days, we got from Somalia to Norway, no one got killed, a few minor injuries occured, but we had medical help available. We got food, an the tasks given by the military were adjusted to the people in each group, SO IT WOULDN’T BE TOO HARD.

The last few years, I’ve seen more and more about humanitarian organizations in news and social media focusing on refugees, but personally, I would like to see even MORE FOCUS ON THE SUBJECT in educational institutions. I believe that most people would learn a lot about participating in a roleplay like the one I participated in. Not because we necessarily can get the experience of being a refugee, but because we’ll learn how it is living with the fear of getting killed every day, and I believe that the organizations behind these kind of roleplays have a lot of great information about being a refugee both before and after the roleplay, and that they can answer most of the questions you might have after going through something based on the reality of refugees.

If we want peace and understanding, one of the most important things we need is knowledge. I know I learned a lot of this experience, and that is maybe one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to the topics of international relations and humanitarian work.

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