Dialogue with Refugees in Norway
Anti-refugee politics is on the rise all over the world, but we can counter this trend by daring to ask questions and get to know those who are being spoken about.
Reading time: 3 minutes
“Talk to us, don’t talk about us, and definitely do not speak in our name.”
Those were the words of Rouba Mhaissen, a human rights defender helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Her words stuck with me. Globally, discussions about refugees are increasingly politicized. This is evident in Norway, where advocates are demanding the country to accept families from refugee camps in Greece, while right-wing political parties claim that bringing migrants will encourage more refugees to come to Europe. As a facilitator of encounters between Norwegian students and refugees, I believe that dialogue is key to mitigating these political trends. To better understand the complex situations of refugees, it is vital to make space for refugees to tell their stories - especially as the number of people seeking refuge is increasing globally.
In my role as a teacher of human rights through dialogue at the Rafto Foundation in Bergen, Norway, I offer classes on the topics of human rights and migration to Norwegian students age 13-19. At the end of the migration class, I ask the students what they would ask if they could meet a refugee. After listening to their questions, I reveal that we will have a visitor: a person who had to flee from her country and is now residing in Norway as a refugee. The students get to listen to her story and engage in a dialogue. They are talkative and profoundly interested to hear what she has to say. Building relationships between strangers through dialogue is paramount for host country citizens to understand the need to provide refuge, and defend the rights of those who have lost their safety and security.
I strongly believe that the best tool to decrease the politicization of refugees in Norway is to facilitate dialogues where participants and people seeking refuge are able to ask each other questions. In my class, I have experienced that such an encounter creates a bond between the students and the refugee. In this setting, the students encounter a unique perspective, which then fosters new perspectives for discussions outside of the classroom.
Rouba’s words resonated with me because I have observed both the positive effects of making space for refugees to tell their stories, as well as the dangerous rhetoric that arises in media discourse when the voices of people seeking refuge are silenced. Anti-refugee politics is on the rise all over the world, but we can counter this trend by daring to ask questions and get to know those who are being spoken about.
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