A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
Opinion: When I was just a youngster, starting my secondary studies with the Roman Catholic Seminary for potential priests, our headmaster used to tell us to, always, remember that: “your freedom starts where other people´s freedom ends.“
We were too young to get the practical meaning of such philosophical thinking. Within the six years, I spent in that boarding school, I learnt about the fact that one should show concern with regard to observing rules and regulations in order to make each and every one feel comfortable living within the institutional system.
One thing, the teachers used to say unanimously, was: “instead of always complaining about your rights, you should start thinking about your duties towards the community you are living in.”
In time, people find themselves in a specific social context, whereby their own behaviour will, one way or another, impact on their welfare in general; as the society or the community is bound to observe some internal rules and regulations by each and everyone.
Home away from home
As a signatory to the UN convention of 1951, on the refugee status, Denmark observes like many other countries, members of the the U.N, a clear policy in terms of asylum issues. The Danish government has asked the Danish Red Cross to take care of the accommodation of the asylum seekers while their cases are being processed. While they await if Denmark will process their asylum application they are placed in reception centres, and they receive money for the most basic needs, transport and accommodation. Later, most of the asylum seekers are moved to centers where they will stay while they are awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum being processed by the immigration authorities.
At this stage, asylum seekers are getting more substantial benefits in terms of cash, and they also given the opportunity to cook food of their own choice, or attending to any arising needs. And at this stage, most of the asylum seekers are nearing or are already in what is internally referred to as phase 2.
A typical refugee reception center resembles a secondary school or tertiary education campus. Three to four people may share a room, the same bathroom and toilet. In some centers, people meet in the dinning hall for breakfast, lunch or supper. Whereas, in some other centers, they use the kitchen as a meeting place, as they gather there for cooking, or having a chat.
Everyone has access to the Internet or indoor games facilities. Adepts of news would navigate from one television channel to another. The difference from the before mentioned campuses is that in these specific cases, people from various parts of the world have fled from their countries due to fear of persecution, be it political or social. Here, one could easily talk about a kind of socio-cultural ‘melting pot’.
At Her Majesty’s pleasure
Humanistically speaking, everyone seeking asylum in Denmark could be regarded as a guest of Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark, under the auspices of official instances dealing with the refugee issues. Needless to say, for any one with common sense, being a guest of a certain society, he/she would be expected to comport him/herself well by observing some elementary sense of respect towards him or herself and the neighborhood, and more importantly the very institutions dealing with his or her political asylum case.
However, due to the simple fact that human beings are just humans and not perfect angels, ugly scenes of violence do happen, and some of the interested parties within the asylum system must express their feelings and opinions with regard to the matter.
Cases of misconduct are often brought to the attention of the relevant community leaders or supervisors. Then, even paradoxical are cases of people wrecking havoc within the very system under which they are seeking protection, and also, sadly setting a bad precedent for themselves in particular, and unfairly, to some extent, setting a regrettable precedent for the fellow members of the same ethnic or racial group.
Some of the cases of misconduct beat common social understanding, for instance some time before the end of year 2010, in Avnstrup, one guy - for reasons known to himself - out of the blue, got into a fit of rage, and vented all his anger on the center facilities. He picked and smashed the computers in the reception lounge, hence denying fellow residents the chance to use the Internet for a whole week.
As if that was not enough, he went on breaking the television set in the lounge, smashing the windows and doors of the offices from the ground level to the third level of the 5 storey main building at the center.
If you live in a glass house, do not throw stones!
Within any social community, people are bound to some internal rules and regulations, necessary for the well-being of the members of the community they are living in. Asylum seekers should, naturally, bear in mind that, once living in reception centers under the care of the Danish Red Cross, this very institution, as an implementing partner to UNHCR and Danish Government, constitutes a kind of social surveillance radar.
So most crucial is the fact that the Red Cross officials report on someone misconduct may prove to have a negative impact on the outcome of the dream desire of every asylum seeker i.e. the positive answer to the asylum application.
So, asylum seekers should behave according to the rules and regulations, at least, for the sake of their own interest.
INTERVIEW WITH FIDEL, AN ASYLUM SEEKER FROM RWANDA
New Times (NT): Have you ever lived or witnessed any case of misconduct by members of the asylum seekers community?
Fidel: Personally, I have never been a victim of any violent behaviour. But somehow, people in the center get disturbed by any act of violence being done within the center. For example, sometime in December last year, in Avnstrup, someone broke computers, TV-sets, and smashed the offices' windows and doors. I remember when I was in Auderød, before being moved to Avnstrup, the police was very often called in for intervention. People were either fighting or making trouble by vandalising the facilities in the center, destroying the kitchen utensils, and purportedly loitering around the centre.
NT: According to you, how bad can the impact of such behaviour be on the asylum seekers community?
Fidel: It just makes them more and more frustrated, as the majority of these asylum seekers come from war torn countries, most of them are suffering from trauma, and are still just trying to recover from such an unpleasant psychical predicament.
NT: What do you think should be done by the asylum seekers, on one hand, and the asylum institutions' authorities, on the other hand, to avert such regrettable cases?
Fidel: A committee should be set up, aiming at advising people on the basics of conduct and behaviour in the center. Those with some notorious disruptive behaviour could be summoned by the disciplinary committee, and be strongly warned. Everyone coming to stay in the center should sign clearly stipulated internal rules and regulations. Meaning that no one would plead ignorant with regard to disciplinary measures subsequent to any eventual offence. And if possible, the government, through the Danish Red Cross should consider initiating some sort of anger management course, as part of a conflict transformation program.
INTERVIEW WITH HELLE JØRGENSEN, MANAGER, CENTER AVNSTRUP
Rather tight reins
New Times (NT): How often do you receive complaints from asylum seekers who are not happy with the way some of the other asylum seekers behave within the center?
Helle Jørgensen: We almost always get complaints from other residents when there has been vandalism at the centre. The other residents are usually upset and frustrated because someone has chosen to smash things which are for the benefit of all residents. The vandalism makes the residents feel uncomfortable.
NT: How do you handle these cases?
Helle Jørgensen: We always make a report on vandalism. Sometimes we report it to the police. If we know who did the vandalism, Danish Red Cross makes a claim against the person.
NT: Sometimes, before the end of the year 2010, an asylum seeker wrought havoc by completely, and violently destroying the computers, TV-sets in the reception lounge, windows and doors. How much did it cost to fix the damage?
Helle Jørgensen: The huge vandalism at center Avnstrup in autumn 2010 cost 55,000 dollars to repair (excluding computers).
NT: Who payed for it?
Helle Jørgensen: Initially, it is the center that pays for the damages, but as previously said Avnstrup has presented a claim to the offender.
NT: What can be done to avoid this in the future?
Helle Jørgensen: The staff constantly tries to be aware if there are any residents who are in a really bad condition. If we see that an occupant is feeling bad, we try to support and assist the resident as best we can.
NT: What are your plans regarding campaigns, publications, debates or workshops to make asylum seekers more aware of their duties responsibilities towards fellow members of asylum community?
Helle Jørgensen: The staff speaks with the residents' council about the problem and hopefully through this channel we can spread the message to all residents that vandalism adversely affects all residents in the centre. Both indirectly because of the economic consequences for the centre and in terms of deterioration of the situation for all residents. An example: When there is only one working computer left to all the residents the possibilities are limited. When we find out who did the vandalism we have a serious conversation with the resident about the incident.
Asylum and the law
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