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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 12:22 GMT
African hopes ride on Norway camels
By Lars Bevanger
BBC News, Oslo

Camels at Norwegian animal park
Camels have no problem surviving Norway's cold winters

A small community in wintry Norway wants to help a group of East African refugees back to work by importing a flock of camels.

The local refugee council says it will allow refugees with nomadic background to use their camel-farming skills while also securing an alternative income for local agriculture.

But how do camels adapt to Arctic conditions in the far north of Europe?

Igor, a five year-old Bactrian camel, is living proof his particular breed of camel has no qualms about snow and sub-zero temperatures.

'Happy in minus 40'

Igor roams a large, snow-covered enclosure at the Amadeus animal park north of Oslo, together with his family of three.

"Our camels are very different camels, because they are from Mongolia and Russia," owner Jon Rian told the BBC News website.

"He's very happy because he's built and made to live in temperatures to minus forty, and maybe colder than that."

Refugee council leader Wenche Stenseth
Wenche Stenseth hopes the plan will help local refugees

In the nearby village of Loeten, the camels have given the local refugee council an idea. It has been looking for new ways of finding work for some 100 refugees, who mainly come from East African countries.


"It's hard to find jobs for anyone here," explained refugee council leader Wenche Stenseth.

"Then we found out that many of the refugees here have nomadic backgrounds, and know a lot about camel farming. So we want to import camels, and employ the refugees so that they can use the skills they already have."

Ms Stenseth argued a camel farm could help integrate the refugees, and give them self-respect and pride through working with something they excel at.

She and her colleagues have applied for government money to explore the possibility of importing some 20 camels, which could provide produce like milk, fur, hides and meat.

Abdirahman Abdille Isman
Refugees such as Isman already have camel farming skills

The farming expertise, they say, will come from refugees like Abdirahman Abdille Isman, who fled Somalia eight years ago.

He is very positive to the idea of a camel farm in wintry Loeten.

"I farmed camels in Somalia for many years," he told the BBC News website.

"I had around one hundred camels there. I think camel farming here is a great idea.

"I don't know any other refugees here who don't think this is a good idea."

Cautious optimism

Around the village of Loeten lies some of Norway's best farm land, and local farmers have been approached to see whether they will agree to house the camels.

Einar Myki is one of them. For now, he breeds pigs and angora rabbits. He is cautiously optimistic about the project.

Farmer Einar Myki
Local farmers such as Einar Myki are intrigued by the idea

"It's an interesting idea, but of course we'll have to check out government rules and a lot of things before we can see camels here.

"Of course, if [the refugees] know camels from before, they can educate us if we want to start with this."

Mr Myki points out, however, that camels are very different from ordinary Norwegian farm animals like pigs and cattle. They breed slowly, and need much more space to roam.

The local authorities also have to secure an exemption from a ban on the import of exotic animals for farming purposes.

If they do, the first 20 camels could arrive here towards the end of this year. In which case the camel Igor and his family in the animal park would become far less exotic than they are today.

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