For years they lived as ordinary Norwegian until the police turned up and sent them back to their home countries. While asylum applications are processed and rejections are appealed, children of asylum seekers begin school, learn Norwegian and make friends. They become part of their local communities and establish family routines. They have dreams and aspirations – just like any other Norwegian child. Families claiming asylum often stay for years without residence permit while their cases are investigated. Many refuse to leave or appeal the rejection of their claim. In due course, children feel that Norway is their home while their country of origin becomes an unfamiliar place. Between January and October 2014 alone, 543 minors were deported from Norway. 80 of these had lived in the country for four years or more. They were sent to countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria. Human rights activists criticise the Norwegian government for violating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) when deporting so called long-staying children, children who have lived in the country for years without leave to remain. The UN convention has been part of Norwegian law since 2003 and stipulates that decisions concerning children must be in the child's best interests.
Amin (16) fled from the Taliban in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan and came to Norway in 2009 with his mother, father and two younger siblings. After almost five years, the family was deported back to Kabul. With the help of human traffickers, Amin made his way back to Europe on his own. He has been in prison twice since his return. Negin (15) came to Norway in 2009 with her mother, father and brother Ramtin (10). They claimed asylum because of political persecution in Iran. In 2014 they were returned to Iran
but feared for their lives since they had converted to Christianity while in Norway so they fled to Turkey. There, they have applied for UNHCR protection as so-called resettlement refugees and are waiting to be accepted.
Josephine (17), Richard (14), Marta (12) and Martens (12) came to Norway with their mother in 2009 and lived in the small town of Borkenes in northern Norway for almost five years until they were sent back to Nigeria. With the support of friends in Borkenes they made their way back to Italy where the father lives. Doaa (21), Gofran (20), Mona (17), Israe (15), Bayan (12), Sara (9) and Nora (7) from Irbid in Jordan lived in Norway for almost nine years before they were deported. The two youngest sisters were born in Norway. The family has lost two hearings in the Norwegian court system and recently their appeal was dismised by the Supreme Court.
"Return" tells the story of these young people who were deported after their families' applications for asylum were rejected. They lived in Norway between four and nine years and now, back in their home country, are displaced again.
The many years abroad prevent them from returning to school and a normal life.
Andrea Gjestvang visited them after they were deported - some back in their home country, others on the run in Europe. Staged portraits are mixed with images of belongings they brought from Norway and pictures of their new life. She also visited the places where they lived in Norway. Based on what they told her, she photographed everyday places and memories - a former bedroom, the view from the classroom window, places they used to go. She also met with their friends and photographed them in places where they used to go together.
The current immigration crisis has triggered a major political debate in many European countries and even in Scandinavia, attitudes are changing. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and has one of the best human rights records. Through these images, Andrea wishes to question the way her country treats young people who identify themselves as Norwegians.