Norway for sale

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I have been a journalist for 15 years. But I have never before witnessed anything so overwhelming as the human migration in 2015. We reported for the news from the main train station in Munich in Germany. Watched train after train arrive fully loaded with refugees. In Hungary we were with nearly a thousand refugees who had set the course from Budapest to Vienna. Walked with them on the highway. It was touching to see a barefoot man rolling his elderly father in a wheelchair on the icy road. We reported what we saw, but back in Norway I was left with some basic questions. How does hundreds of thousands of people cross the borders and who organizes all this? How is it possible to get all the way to Norway without identification papers?

This is how the work on this documentary started. Ultimately I travelled to a number of countries to see the refugee crisis from within. With photographer Knut Ragnar Soebak Westad and director Peder Borch Giaever. We met people who had fled war, persecution and poverty. We witnessed how their desperation is being exploited by a boundless cynical industry. An industry where they sell the dream of a better life in Europe.

Kadafi Zaman, TV 2

Idomeni, Hellas

One million people crossed the ocean and came to Europe in 2015. The vast majority came to Greece with ferries from the Greek islands just off the Turkish coast. From Assos in Turkey to the island of Lesvos in Greece there are only four kilometers of ocean. The refugees can literally stand on the shore and look towards the European dream. When they eventually came to the mainland in autumn 2015, everything was ready for a swift movement and exit out of Greece.

Private buses drove the refugees from the ferry area towards the Macedonian border. The price was a few euros. We visited this border crossing at Idomeni. There we also met representatives from the Norwegian Red Cross. I remember we called the contact person of the Red Cross. He told me it was a quiet day. What does "quiet" mean in your world, I asked. That means only 4,000 persons have passed today, he replied. This says it all about the dimensions of what happened last autumn. There was a line of buses at Idomeni as far as we could see. They were full of refugees and migrants. Macedonians let only a certain number pass at a time. This created frustration among the Greeks who wanted the newcomers out of the country as fast as possible. The volunteers stood at the border handing out soup and blankets. I was deeply impressed by the efforts of the Norwegians from the Red Cross. Their faces were glowing. The people they helped had the same energy and spark. They had reached a new stage and looked forward to the next phase. There were no tears. Only courage. I remember thinking how these refugees would feel in a few years. Would they still have the same hope and willpower?

Sid, Serbia

Autumn 2015 was the time when refugees and migrants from around the world could pass freely through Europe without having any identification papers or passports. All countries had the buses ready. From Greece to Macedonia. From Macedonia to Serbia. And from Serbia to Croatia. From one border to the next. Where the refugees faced barbed wire or brutal border guards, new routes emerged.

The refugees had no interest in being in the Balkans or in countries like Greece and Hungary. They wanted to proceed to Germany, Sweden and other rich European countries. We met a lot of these in Sid, on the border between Serbia and Croatia.

At this border crossing the situation was chaotic. Not only could we see a strong tension between border guards and the refugees, there was also a tension between the different groups of refugees. Syrians were clearly angry that so many Afghans were also fleeing. They quarreled openly with each other. One Syrian told us: "In Syria there is war. That is why we escape. But what about all these people who come from other countries? They have nothing to do here". The Afghans replied that there had been war in their country since 2001, ten years before the civil war in Syria broke out. The conflict between many of the groups made me reflect on how it would be when these people would come together in asylum reception centers? I also wonder how it will be in the spring? What new routes will emerge?

Izmir, Tyrkia

Izmir looks like a normal town, but the district of Basmane stands out. There they sell lifejackets openly in the streets. The price is around 100 Turkish lire. That is 30 kroner. The streets are packed with refugees who want them. Entire families are trying the vests. The salesmen promise top quality before they say: “May God be with you”. . We opened one of these jackets and got really shocked. But there is also a bigger and more underground sale. That takes place in the basements of the many clothing stores in Basmane. Only refugees can enter these basements. As a journalist with open camera there is no access. Therefore we used a hidden camera. The whole thing is an absurd experience. In one of these cellars there were only children jackets. According to the owner, they would be sold out within an hour. In the evening he sold vests for adults. In another basement we found plenty of used lifejackets, including a portion of vests from a factory in Risør in Norway. The model was called Triumph 1969. It was painful to see women and children come into the cellars and test the vests. Many of them could not swim, they have never been near the sea and therefore have no idea of what they are buying. Tragic.

Istanbul, Tyrkia

Before leaving Norway we had heard that Istanbul is a hub for smugglers who are selling false passports. The names Aksaray and Laleli appeared constantly. These are areas in Istanbul not far away from the tourist destination, Sultanahmet. To meet the smugglers I posed as the refugee, "Ali Khan”. With a hidden camera in the button of my shirt. Aksaray square is an important meeting place for refugees who want to obtain a passport, a place on a rubber dinghy or place in a truck. Here you can buy the European dream.

When "Ali Khan" sat down on the square with a cigarette, it only took a few minutes before two men asked if he wanted to go to Greece. Gradually the conversation moved to passports. The men told that they could obtain passports from any country in two days. Price 1200 dollars. Also Norwegian passports were available. We filmed it all with hidden camera to show how openly this sale takes place. There are no dark alleys or encrypted communications. No fear of Turkish police. You can just go and sit in the square and look like a newly arrived refugee. That’s it. We made a decision before departure that we would not sponsor the criminal activity by paying money for a passport. We only wanted to see how easy it was. And it really was.

Bekaadalen, Libanon

Most of the people who are fleeing the war in Syria go to their neighboring countries. Lebanon is smaller than Telemark in Norway, but has still welcomed more than 1,5 million Syrian refugees. The majority of them live in the cities. In the capital Beirut they are highly visible. Little girls selling roses at traffic lights while war victims are begging for money. They do what they can to survive. Living conditions are very poor. Many families share small rooms. We visited some of these apartments in Beirut. The rental price is 150 to 200 dollars a month for a small room. Many of the refugees who had brought savings from Syria have now run out of money. They do not get a job and see no future in either their home country or Lebanon. To survive they cut their meals, marry away their daughters or take children out of school so they can work instead. Those who have resources attempt to travel to Turkey. Syrians do not need a visa for Turkey. They can travel by road, get a ferry from Tripoli or just fly from Beirut. But they are the lucky ones. The very poorest do not live in the cities. We found them in the Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria. There they live in tents. Monthly rent is 100 dollar per tent. Private landowners earn a lot on these tent camps that are visible as far as the eye can see. Here the people have no hope. The refugees say they are lucky if they get some work in the field. The salary is 6 dollar per day. These people are the ones who probably will never get to Europe. It was painful to see the little children in these camps. A lost generation with no future.


Having seen the deadly rubber boats in Turkey and chaos in the Balkans, it is obvious that the refugees are trying to find other safe routes to Europe. While we filmed on the border between Serbia and Croatia, we heard about an increasingly popular back road into Schengen. The so called Arctic route. Through Russia and into Finnmark in Norway. The most absurd thing is that the border is being crossed with bicycle. An old agreement between Norway and Russian does not allow to cross the border by foot.

We got press visas to Russia and went to Murmansk to have a closer look at this route. There we met a mini United Nations. People from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Syria. Lebanon. The list is long. They had all arrived by plane from Moscow. At the airport in Murmansk these refugees and migrants were handled by Russian officials. After a very short registration they came out again. Taxis were prebooked and ready to take them to the Norwegian border. It all seemed surprisingly well organized. At its peak more than a thousand refugees and migrants crossed the border from Russia to Norway, in just one week.

Closer to the Norwegian border the refugees were stopped in several Russian checkpoints. Identification papers, those who had it, were checked before they were allowed to travel towards their final destination. I remember thinking that the Russians can stop this flow of people if they really want to. While the refugees passed, we were stopped in the last Russian border station. The car was searched and the Russian officers demanded that we had to delete all footage that showed refugees with bicycle. They stood beside the photographer and ordered him to delete as they watched him go through the material. Luckily we managed to trick them. They thought the clips were deleted. They were not. A few weeks after we were in Russia there were suddenly no refugees over the Storskog border. Will the route suddenly become "active" again? I believe only the Russians can answer that.