Norway 'Refugees Welcome' group hits 80K

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Mona Bentzen celebrates passing the 80,000 milestone. Photo: Refugees Welcome to Norway
22:08 CEST+02:00
More than 80,000 Norwegians have joined the Facebook group, "Refugees welcome to Norway", which people use to share ideas on how to help refugees come to the country.

"It's as if we discovered that goodwill and community spirit can be conveyed into practical action," Jan Vardøen, a writer, musician and director, who helps feed refugees with left-over food from restaurants, told the Oslo Osloby news site. 

On Monday, he brought them leftover food from Maaemo, Norway's only restaurant with two Michelin stars. 

The group has become a way for charities and NGO's to get their messages out to more people, increasing the number of volunteers available to help. 

"For a long time we have thought that people were passive and negative to asylum seekers. That view has gone unchallenged," Vardøen continued. "We were a little worried that it may be like that, but then this happened. Very many out there have just been waiting to be able to do something. It is very touching."

Mona Bentzen from Oslo, who started the group, said she had been moved by the conditions of the refugees she saw at the the police reception centre in Oslo. 

"I was accompanying an asylum seeker to the Police Immigration Service in Tøyen and was absolutely horrified when I saw the long queue of sick, cold and hungry people. I decided that I had to do something," she told Norway's VG newspaper.

To start of with, the group focused on feeding asylum seekers a hot meal while they were waiting to apply for asylum. 

"It was demanding in terms of time and money, but we did not know then that it would become so big. I just wanted to help. The second thing I did was contact the media," says Bentzen.

Since then the group has become a forum for people who want to help refugees in a number of ways. 

"Today the group has nearly 80,000 members. And it's not just passive members, this has triggered an incredible community spirit," said Bianca Boege, who is one of the group's administrators. "People write to us to say that they have donated clothes and toys to their local immigration services. They donate money and they organise things." 

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