Last year a TV show was aired in Norway under the title “Helene is checking in”. In the show we are following a woman called Helene when she is visiting six different institutions and stays there for five days. She is meeting people who for various reasons have ended up under someone else’s supervision or care. In prison, nursing homes and hospices for drug addicts. She is also checking in at a reception centre for asylum seekers.
I want to talk about the episode where she checks in to the reception centre for asylum seekers. When this was recorded in the end of 2015 it was in the middle of the enormous influx of refugees as a result of the civil war in Syria. Norway as a nation was struggling with how they were supposed to be able to accommodate everyone. In the episode we get an insight in how it is to live as an asylum seeker in Norway. We meet everything from toddlers to old people who all are waiting for their asylum application to be accepted, or in worst case declined.
This show was presenting the issue asylum seekers have to deal with on a daily basis. The reception centre is a big old building that was used as a psychiatric hospital in the beginning of the 20th century. The condition they lived under was horrible; it was so horrible that you wouldn’t want your verst enemy to live there. It then started a debate in the public sphere about the conditions of the reception centres in Norway. It made people start debate on how they as a nation could develop more reception centres for people who are forced to leave their country.
It also started a debate on the refugee crisis in the country and how Norway would decline applications where people was unable to live in their own country because of a danger for their own safety. It showed how the police (if the application was declined) could come and drag them out of their bed and on to a plane straight back to where they came from. It gave the refugees a face, and more people in Norway started to understand what the refugees actually where dealing with. It created a big and really important debate in the public sphere. This was something almost everyone was talking about in online discussion forums, in their private homes and on TV.
The TV show started as a journalistic experiment but turned out to be so much more.