Theater of Cruelty

The Kurdish "workhorse"

Everyone talks about 197 Kurdish Iraqis that the UDI showed grace. Nobody cares about the 1200 who were not allowed to stay in Norway.


[asylum]… Finally, after losing all hope of being granted a work permit here in Norway, I tried to move out of Norway and seek asylum in other countries, as others have done. I tried three times, but all the times I failed. It is said that you get three chances in life, nothing more. I've already used my three. So I don't think I'll get another chance again. I've given up. I've suffered enough. (...)

The whole of Norway is excited that the bureaucrats in the Directorate of Immigration (UDI) are not doing what the politicians say. No one is excited about the incredible suffering the people behind the numbers have to endure. What is the reason why the formalities of asylum policy engage more than the human race?

On January 18 this year, Iraqi Kurdish Omar Kadir Mohammad Shekhani sent the letter quoted to the UDI. Shekhani is one of the more than 2000 asylum seekers from Northern Iraq who has been riding Norwegian society since the late 1990s as a mare. He is one of Northern Iraq's asylum seekers for whom the UDI closed its doors this winter, before Erna Solberg and other politicians in March stopped processing the applications in what they call the "UDI scandal".

Shekhani's "crime" was that he was trying to leave a Norway that did not want him. After repeated refusal of work and residence permits, he gave up Norway in 2003 and tried to move to the UK to seek protection there. When he arrived at Oslo Airport at Gardermoen, he was arrested for having fake papers.

- I saw no other way to get to the UK. Even though Norway did not want me here, they arrested me at the airport and sentenced me to 45 days in prison, says Shekhani.

He was sentenced in 2004. Two other attempts to get abroad also ended up being sent back to Norway.

As a result, he was considered a criminal when he applied for a stay under the now much-cited temporary regulation, introduced by former municipal minister Erna Solberg (H), to make holes in what the departed UDI director Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen has referred to as " and traffic jams ».

Darkness of 1100

"Verkebyllen" consists of 2019 Iraqi Kurds who in February 2000 the Ministry of Justice granted a one-year temporary residence permit without the right to family reunification or settlement permit – hence the abbreviation "muf".

Minister of Local Government Erna Solberg's temporary regulations – introduced on 15 March last year – gave the muffs from northern Iraq the opportunity to stay in Norway. The precondition was that they had a job, that they were not criminals, and that there was no doubt about their identity.

Today, all attention is directed to the "scandalous" fact that 197 of the mufs have been allowed to stay in Norway, despite the fact that the conditions in the regulations were not met. The UDI believed that there were humanitarian reasons to stay there.

However, little attention is paid to the following fact: Of 2019 Kurdish Iraqis who, since 2000, have constituted the "traffic jam" of unreturnable muffs, most have succumbed to Norway's hard drive against them. These are must-haves that have given up in despair: Either they have gone underground in Norway, traveled to another country to seek protection, or returned to Iraq.

When the "UDI scandal" stopped further processing of the cases, 858 Kurdish Iraqis had applied for residence under Solberg's temporary regulations. Not all applications are finalized. But so far, 530 of them have been allowed to stay in accordance with the regulations, while 197 have been allowed to stay based on the UDI's contentious assessment of human concerns.

At the same time, 105 Iraqi Kurds, including Shekhani, have been rejected. They have not come any further today than when they came to Norway seven or eight years ago.

However, the more than 1100 Iraqi Kurds from the original group in 2019 make up the large dark figure. Because nobody knows what happened to them. Not even the UDI.

- In recent years, a number of Iraqis have returned to their home country, not everyone has applied to continue living in Norway. The UDI only has contact with those who applied for the temporary regulations. Therefore, it is difficult to account for the place of residence for those who received a muf permit and have not applied further for a residence and work permit in the UDI, says communications director Agnar Kaarbø in the UDI.

… My thoughts fly and create problems for me. I'm not sleeping. I fall into alcohol drinking, which for a while makes me drunk and keeps me awake. (…) What I think about most is the criminal act I committed, and which the Norwegian authorities pressured me to commit. (…) I accept the sentence of 45 days in prison, but in reality I have spent seven years now in an even bigger prison than what I was in the 45 days. …

From the beginning, the Norwegian authorities looked reluctantly at the refugees from Iraq.

At the same time as the MUF scheme was introduced, the Bondevik 1 government clearly indicated that it did not want more Iraqi Kurds to seek asylum in Norway. To VG (February 25, 2000), then Justice Minister Odd Einar Dørum (V) said the following about the MUF decision: "A powerful signal to those who want to take advantage of the asylum institute."

The reason for the decision was that it was "practically impossible" to forcibly send them back to northern Iraq. All of the 2019 asylum seekers from Saddam Hussein's terror regime had been rejected by the UDI for their asylum applications. But war and persecution in Iraq made them refuse to go home voluntarily.

- I sought protection in Norway because I feared for my life. Nobody wants to live in what is now Iraq. A person's life there is not worth more than the price of a bullet, says Shekhani, who worked as a policeman in Suleymani in northern Iraq before fleeing to Norway in 1999.

However, the new Labor government that came to power in March 2000 decided to stop the muf scheme. With Sylvia Brustad (Labor Party) at the helm, it was decided on 7 May 2001 that the sleeves would have their application for further temporary residence in Norway rejected – unless individual assessment indicated the need for asylum or residence on humanitarian grounds.

- No future

Thus, the stuck situation between the authorities and the Mufs persisted: Norway could not force the Iraqi Kurds back by plane to Baghdad and right in the arms of a Kurdish-hating Saddam. Nor were there any extradition agreements that allowed Norway to forcibly transport them back via neighboring countries to Iraq.

The Mufs in turn refused to do as the Norwegian authorities asked them; to cross the border into northern Iraq in the same way as when they left the country. Pending the dispatch of the Kurds, the sleeves were until now granted temporary work permits.

- Sometimes we got a three-month work permit, other times six months or a year. Each time the permit expired, we had to reapply. We were scared, because the politicians said we could only go back to Iraq. I went to work and felt no future, says taxi driver Ismet Abdul-Rahman Mustafa, who first got a job through the Adecco temp agency in January 2001.

Today, despite the fact that he has always had a job, he is placed in the controversial group of 197 muf-ers.

… As a Kurd, I have experienced a lot of pain that has robbed me of a normal life. Of the 33 years of my life, I have experienced nothing but misery and suffering. (…) How long will the uncertainty last and how much will we suffer? Is that not enough? (…) How long will I be punished? Are not the 45 days enough? The hopelessness led me to act like this. I was in need. I have not hurt or injured anyone, only myself. I am not a criminal and have never committed criminal acts. (…) Where is the justice and what is wrong with this system? …

In the summer of 2003, the government found the time ripe to tighten further in relation to the mufs. This time, Erna Solberg, municipal minister of the Bondevik 2 government, was in charge.

The measure was to cut funding and other rights to force asylum seekers without a residence permit out of the country.

However, the deteriorating situation for the Iraqi Kurds did little to improve the situation. At Ny Tid, one of the muffs, Rebwar Waid Aziz, had this to say when the blackmail tactics became known:

- I would rather go on the streets and beg and sleep at the subway station, than go back to northern Iraq.

Maybe not safe in Iraq

The situation became so unbearable for the Iraqi Kurds that five Norwegian asylum and refugee organizations sent out a worry report in 2003.

It states that the situation of the Kurds is critical: If they stay in Norway, it means that they lose the work permit, that they are not entitled to social assistance or social security benefits, and that they no longer have the right to live in asylum centers, warned the Refugee Council, the Helsinki Committee, Noas, SOS Racism and Self Help for Immigrants and Refugees.

The alternative was to "voluntarily" return to what the Norwegian authorities constantly claimed was a safe Iraq through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The UDI had initiated a collaboration with the IOM in order to facilitate voluntary return for persons who have received a final refusal of the asylum application.

However, neither the IOM nor the UDI can say anything about how many have returned "voluntarily". The IOM has registered the return of over 250 Iraqis since the program started in 2002, but has no idea how many of them may be Kurdish Iraqis with Muf status.

Idris Sabir and Baghi Talebolelm, both Kurdish Iraqis engaged in SOS racism, do not think it is strange that the Mufs refuse to return to Iraq.

They present a copy of the IOM voluntary return form that one of the Mufs filled out in March 2004. Here, among other things, the Kurdish Iraqi had to sign the following sentence: "I recognize that conditions in Iraq may not yet be safe, but still wants to voluntarily return to Iraq. ”

For Idris Abas Hassan, who fled to Norway in 1999, Erna Solberg's tightening meant a lasting fight to make ends meet.

- The first two years I had a job. But since then I have been unemployed. Every day I look for work, I have traveled to Hamar, Lillehammer and Bergen and applied for positions. But every time I have been rejected. It is like running and running and never reaching the goal, says Hassan, who comes from Halabja, the city where Saddam gassed 5000 Kurds to death.

He, too, is one of the 197 mufs that are now contested.

For Isa Mohammed Abdullah's part, a work accident became a nightmare in Norway. In 2003, he fell from a scaffold and broke both his arms and his back.

- I have gone for several years without a job or social assistance. Comrades have lent me money so that I can manage, says Abdullah, who still has severe pain in his arms after operations.

He is glad that the UDI placed him among the 197 who were allowed to stay in for humanitarian reasons. But he is afraid that the politicians' demands for head-rolling in the UDI will lead to a reversal of the decision.

In that case, he, Hassan and Mustafa risk once again having to continue being a "workhorse" in Norwegian society.

For Shekhani's part, fate was sealed

even before the "UDI scandal".

… You can now decide my destiny. (…) Now I feel like I'm living a life after death. Life is over for me. If I am confronted right now, I have no other option but to commit suicide, which I try to avoid. Now I shut myself down and suffer from anxiety. Therefore, I pray for their mercy and grace.


  • A total of 2019 Kurdish refugees from Northern Iraq made a tough decision in 2000.
  • Of these, 858 have applied for stays according to temporary regulations of 15 March 2005
  • 530 of the applicants have been granted residence in accordance with the temporary regulations.
  • 105 have been rejected in accordance with the temporary regulations.
  • 197 have been granted residence due to strong human considerations.
  • There are no figures on what has happened to the remaining 1100 mufs.
  • Muf stands for "temporary residence permit without the right to family reunification or residence permit".

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