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Feeling of isolation

An american student describes his visit in asylum center Sigerslev

Sigerslev

 

By: Willy Christensen

This article is a part of a cross cultural project between New Times and a group of American students from Danish Institute for Study Abroad. This writer was given the assignment to go hunting for hygge in different parts of the Danish society.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited the Sigerslev Asylum Center. I knew I probably wouldn’t find the Danish concept of hygge there, but when I got there, I realized that it was hard to find anything even faintly resembling the traditionally Danish concept of coziness and comfort in the former military barracks that make up the center. The center is a lonely place, surrounded by seemingly endless farm fields on all sides except to the east, where limestone cliffs drop sharply into the frigid Baltic. The sky was the same dull grey and the air was just as cold as I had experienced in Copenhagen, but to experience it at the asylum center was unsettling. Stepping off one of only five buses that shuttle residents to and from the center each day, I instantly felt isolated and alone.

Single men
Here in southern Zealand, the Red Cross houses roughly 320 asylum seekers at the center; all single men, and mostly from the Middle East and Africa. A variety of reasons have brought them here. Wars or famines, or political turmoil in the home countries had led them to Denmark, where they wait at Asylum Centers like Sigerslev for the chance to live and work in the country legally. Sometimes, however, the process can take a long time.

No hygge
“Most stay about six months, but it always depends,” said Kenneth, an office worker at Sigerslev who also acts as a concierge of sorts. Loaning out cooking and recreation equipment, and helping Asylum seekers with everything from maintenance problems to legal advice. The center does have limited recreation facilities, and a nearby nature reserve, but the friendly, inviting atmosphere of hygge is something that just doesn’t exist in Sigerslev.

One reason for this is that most asylum seekers have nowhere else to go.

Need bus pass
“You need the bus pass to leave, so you can’t go anywhere. You are stuck here. It’s very boring,” said Hussein, a refugee from Egypt who has been at the center for fourteen months. “I visit my friend in Copenhagen once, maybe twice a week, otherwise if I stay here for the full day, I go crazy.”

In the office, Kenneth understands the frustrations of some of the center’s residents, but says there are still those living there who hope for the best.

“Generally people are optimistic here,” he said. “Of course, the longer you’re here, the harder it is to be optimistic.”

Being trapped
My visit to Sigerslev came to a close only a few hours after I arrived. The feeling of being trapped in an uncomforting place faded as I got closer and closer to my new home in Copenhagen. What I experienced there, however, will stay with me. Coming from my background in the United States, I never had to worry about the issues residents of the Asylum Center have to worry about. I’ve never been isolated from a society, cut off, and left at the edge of that society’s borders. For me, the most striking thing about Sigerslev was that feeling of isolation. The feeling is always with you for as long as you’re there, just as much as the chill in the winter air.

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