16 May 2011 Interview with Maria Amelie in Wysokie Obcasy

A supplement to Saturday’s Gazeta Wyborcza – Wysokie Obcasy magazine – features an interview with Maria Amelie, How to deserve Norway? (Jak zasłużyć na Norwegię?). In an interview with Katarzyna Surmiak-Domańska, the Osetian speaks about the life of illegal immigrants and how she found refuge in Krakow.

In Norway, Maria Amelie’s book stirred a heated media debate – her case was discussed by politicians, parliamentarians, while human rights organisations fought for her. Maria Amelie, a 26-year-old Osetian who has lived in Norway for nine years without any documents was given an order to leave the country, which she now regards as her home. She did not want to go back to Russia, but then she was granted cultural refuge by Krakow.

In 2004, Maria Amelie’s parents were notified that their refuge application had been rejected. An appeal against this decision also met with refusal. This way, once again, Maria (real name Madina Salamova)’s family was left without papers and a home. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the young Osetian girl from gaining an education. When she graduated, Maria even got a job offer, which she had to reject due to the illegal status of her residence. Then came the idea to write a book in which she described her life as an immigrant. Illegal Norwegian is a record of this experience. Just a few days after the premiere of the publication, all the major Norwegian media outlets had touched upon the case. Released in September 2010, the autobiography, which discloses the problems faced by immigrants in Norway won the author great renown. Ny Tid news magazine recognized the Osetian as Norwegian of the Year 2010 – people were shocked that someone could live and function normally in Norway without any permission.

“Gazeta Wyborcza: You published the book, putting all your eggs in one basket. You exposed yourself.
Maria Amelie: And that is why, two days before the release of the book, I had applied for asylum. Previously, only my parents had been given refusals. Norwegian law envisages a possibility of granting asylum in exceptional cases. I argued I was such a case.”

As it turned out though, the release of the book also meant trouble. In January 2011 the writer was arrested. While under arrest for a few days, Maria Amelia learned that the court had rejected her individual request for asylum and, concurrently, launched a deportation procedure. “What I recall about those days is fear,” she says.

“What were you actually scared of?,” the GW journalist asked her. “I’d earlier called my father’s friends in Moscow and South Ossetia, and they said ‘You’d better not come by.’ My deportation was the number one news in the Russian media. Most people did not know why we had left the country. They thought that we’d left with millions for the Bahamas. I was afraid of being kidnapped, a fear instilled by my parents. Luckily, nothing bad happened. (...) I spent two months in Moscow under terrible stress, waiting for a Russian passport. When I got it, I immediately flew to Krakow,” Maria said.

“Why Krakow? That’s thanks to Helge Lund, Head of ICORN, with whom I established contact even when in Norway. She offered me several cities and suggested that Krakow was the coolest. A great feeling to be able to choose from. (...) I feel great here, finally, I’m not afraid. (...) I’m hopeful,” Maria explains.

Maria Amelia – Real name Madina Salamova, born in 1985 in South Ossetia. As a teenager, she settled with her parents – Russian refugees – in Norway. There, she passed her secondary school-leaving exams and completed university studies. She wrote a book – Illegal Norwegian – which earned her the title Norwegian of the Year 2010. The book, about Norway’s immigrant underground, resulted in Maria Amelia’s deportation to Russia, which was protested against by Amnesty International and the Norwegian branch of the Helsinki Committee. Now, Maria Amelia is living in Krakow at the invitation of the Villa Decius Association.