Ethiopians give up church refuge

Ethiopian refugees protest at Oslo CathedralThe last of nearly 100 Ethiopian refugees who failed to qualify for asylum in Norway gave up their week-long occupation of the Oslo Cathedral (Domkirken) on Monday. Now they’ll await their fate at an asylum center in Oslo’s Torshov district.


The Ethiopians marched to the cathedral last Monday, launched a hunger strike and set up camp inside the chilly cathedral that’s still undergoing renovation. After a few days, some of them gave up their protest action, while others hung on, including some pregnant women.

Two were taken to an emergency clinic late last week suffering from lack of nutrition and exhaustion. By Sunday, their numbers had dwindled, but all still claimed they were desperate and feel their asylum applications hadn’t been handled properly.

Church officials held Sunday services as usual and many of the Ethiopian refugees participated. On Monday, they agreed to leave the church in return for promises that they will be granted new meetings with Norwegian immigration authorities.

“The authorities wouldn’t meet us until all the demonstrators were out of the church,” Bizualem Beza, who initially functioned as a spokesman for the group, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). A meeting now will be held at the office of Oslo Bishop Ole Kristian Kvarme, with representatives from the Justice Ministry and immigration agencies UDI and UNE.

The authorities have determined that the Ethiopians didn’t meet requirements for asylum and want them to return to Ethiopia. The refugees fear political reprisal back home and have refused to leave voluntarily. The Norwegians, meanwhile, have no agreements in place with Ethiopian authorities to arrange deportation.

That has left the rejected refugees in a difficult situation in Norway, as undocumented and unable to work legally, although many have managed to live in the country for years and work illegally.

Beza apologized for causing disruption for the church. “But we were so afraid and desperate,” he said, joining fellow refugees in thanking church officials, aid organizations and the media for the attention they received for their cause.

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