UPDATED: An Afghan man who sought asylum after working as an interpreter for the Norwegian military was deported on Tuesday, after authorities refused to process his application in Norway. The opposition parties grilled Prime Minister Erna Solberg on whether she’d intervene to get 22-year-old Faizullah Muradi’s case processed locally, and Solberg initially said it wasn’t her place to do so. By Wednesday evening, she reportedly was changing her mind.
With the pressure rising and amidst claims she was being heartless, Solberg was softening her stance. News bureau NTB reported Wednesday evening that Solberg now intended to ask for a re-evaluation of the deported interpreter’s case.
Norwegian forces in Afghanistan enlisted Muradi as an interpreter when he was 18 years old. State broadcaster NRK has reported that in addition to assisting Norwegian military forces in Afghanistan with language issues, he received weapons training and took part in combat alongside the Norwegians. The Taliban labelled Muradi a traitor, threatened to kill him, and he fled to Italy. He stayed there for two years while authorities made him testify against the smugglers who got him out of Afghanistan, before he was allowed to leave Italy for Norway, where he had support from his former Norwegian defense employers.
Once in Norway, though, immigration authorities refused to process his asylum application based on the so-called Dublin Regulation. The treaty states that the country responsible for determining a person’s asylum application is usually the one through which the refugee entered the EU or the European Economic Area. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (Utlendingsdirektoratet, UDI) further stated there were no family ties or any other special reasons for Muradi’s claim to be processed in Norway, instead of Italy.
“It feels like I’m living in an open prison,” Muradi told NRK a week ago. “It is hopeless to be constantly expecting to be sent out of the country.” Muradi noted how 21 other Afghan interpreters have been granted residence in Norway, after their service to Norwegian troops in Afghanistan, and he just wanted to be treated the same: “We had the same goals. We fought together and lived in the same base. I did practically the same as the others. Therefore I feel that I should have the same rights as them.”
Muradi received his final rejection last Wednesday. Just after midnight on Monday night the police arrived at his door in Mandal, on Norway’s southern coast, and sent him out of Norway early on Tuesday morning. “Hi everybody, this is me sitting in the back side of the police car,” the interpreter said in a video he filmed. “I’m getting deported, going to Kristiansand. I just want to say thank you to all of you, my dear supporters. And please don’t stop supporting, keep supporting me, I still need it because I’m not giving up. So thank you, have a great night. A big kiss.”
“One thing I will always keep saying is that even if they deport me back to Italy, I do not regret helping the Norwegians,” Muradi said in another video, filmed by a Norwegian friend, Morten Ekeland, during the arrest. One of the officers who arrested the interpreter said on camera that it was a shame, in his opinion. Ekeland praised the police for their dignified handling of the case.
PM called on to intervene
In parliamentary question hour on Wednesday, the Conservative’s Prime Minister Solberg was bombarded with questions from the Christian Democrats, Labour, Liberals, Center and Socialist Left parties, asking whether she’d intervene to ensure Muradi’s case is processed in Norway.
“We have a special responsibility for those who have worked for Norwegian forces in Afghanistan, but that does not mean that everyone has the right to stay in Norway,” Solberg said, arguing that she could not intervene in individual cases. “The specific assessment is done by the immigration authority.”
She said Muradi’s case did not fall under a scheme introduced by the former government in 2012, which grants Afghans the right to seek asylum in Norway if their efforts for the Norwegian forces had put them in danger. While the arrangement is still in place, Solberg said Muradi wasn’t eligible because he had left Afghanistan before it was introduced, and spent a couple of years in Italy.
Her response drew a strong reaction from the opposition parties. Both Christian Democrat and Socialist Left politicians told NRK after the parliamentary session that the Dublin Regulation still gave Norway the choice to consider the case. “It is formulaic and unfeeling,” said Socialist Left leader Audun Lysbakken. “We must act decently. These people are fleeing because they have fought for Norway. So we have a responsibility to help them.”
He argued the government should instruct the immigration authorities to grant the same protections to all military interpreters, regardless of whether they entered Norway through another European country. Solberg told NRK she would “look at the rules.”
The anti-immigration Progress Party’s deputy, Per Sandberg, wrote in a text to NRK that there was no doubt Italy should process Muradi’s application, under the terms of the Dublin Regulation.
Military, human rights organizations back Muradi
Defense veteran Lars Øivind Authen spoke out in support of Muradi’s claim, saying his efforts were crucial to Norwegian operations. “His job was to be on the front line, where his face was known by the locals,” Authen told NRK. “Without his efforts we would not have been able to do our job.”
Amnesty International Norway also argued the government had a special responsibility to the interpreter. General Secretary John Peder Egenæs said returning Muradi to Italy was an option, not a duty under the Dublin Regulation, and it was “absolutely obscene” for Norway to pass off responsibility for Muradi’s case based on the two years he spent in Italy.
“He was held back to perform a socially useful project,” Egenæs said. “It cannot speak against him. He has always been clear that he was going to Norway. It is the job of the Norwegian forces, who have put him in danger. It’s natural that it is the Norwegian authorities that handle his application.”
By Wednesday evening, after registering the barrage of criticism against her, Solberg showed signs of relenting. “Norway is preoccupied with making sure that those who have performed good service for Norwegian forces abroad should be treated in a decent manner,” Solberg told NTB. “I will therefore ask the Justice Minister to review the practice regarding use of the Dublin Regulation when handling asylum applications from people who earlier have been employed by Norwegian forces in Afghanistan.”