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The consciousness of man died

On Monday morning July 17th, 2017 the family Sabre was scheduled to be escorted by the police to a detention center near Keflavik airport in Iceland.  A flight sending them to Norway was scheduled for the following day.  Later that day we received many messages from their father.  These are some of the excerpts from our correspondence that day.

“Because they said, if here we commit suicide, we will not go back to Iraq, so my friends ask you for help.  I ask you to speak with the Icelandic authorities about the fate of my daughters”.

“Yes, the police came and spoke with them and I said my daughters fled and I will not know their place and their mobile will not work and we are very afraid to do something for themselves because they said we will never return if we die we will not return. We were asking to live like all human beings, but the consciousness of man died”

The family’s third and final appeal was rejected on their 51st week of residing in Iceland.  After 52 weeks of residing in Iceland the Dublin ruling is no longer applicable and asylum requests are handled with a different procedure. Knowing this it is easy to imagine how excruciating UTL’s (Directorate of Immigration) rejection decision was to the Sabre family. When the daughters fled there were no news reports of the girls being missing.  When the Icelandic police found the daughters and deported them this was also not in the news.  When do we get to know about the procedures our authorities take?

As each day passes our concern for the well being of the family heightens.  The girls are no longer in Iceland. They were in a refugee camp in France.  France is not listing their address nor the name of the camp in fear of protest and demonstrations.  The camp is located in one of the most violent areas in France and the most feared area in Marseille.  They are now in a camp in Germany, they do not know the name of the camp or the city they are in. In our last message conversation they said they are afraid that Germany will ship them back to Iceland, and Iceland will in turn ship them directly to Iraq. Zhakou and Zhala are afraid.  They are worried about their parents safety and they are hungry.  Their parents are in hiding in Iraq, they are close to a battle area and fear for their lives they worry about their daughters.  They cannot go out. It is too dangerous.

Double Standards

According to the Iraqi department at NOAS the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, if you are from Kurdish Iraq your chances of being granted asylum are zero. Of course there are extenuating circumstances, but those circumstances would need to be reviewed.  Another system designed to fail it’s applicants.

Norway has deemed Iraq a safe destination for Kurdish asylum seekers to return.  Yet on their travel pages they do not recommend that Norwegians visit Iraq. Although Norway has a lot of interest in Kurdish Iraq’s oil and has been posting troops since 2011 they are not interested in hosting Kurds. The system gets trickier once you receive a rejection from Norway you are required to file for a voluntary return home.  If you fail to do this and seek out asylum in another country without return home, you have absconded.

The Dublin regulation allows EU countries to return asylum seekers to the country where their finger prints where registered upon entry to the EU. There are no direct flights  to Iceland from Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, Somalia, Albania and Sri Lanka and other war torn countries to Iceland.   Almost all asylum applications may be returned to their point of entry via the Dublin Regulation.


“The system is rigged, there are no winners and the lawyers have no tools. Only the few that manage strong activism sometimes stand a chance. Even then their chances are slim....” Oktavía Hrund Jónsdóttir (ms) from the pirate party.

I am told by a longtime volunteer at the Red Cross that refugees who received an asylum rejection from Norway never receive asylum in Iceland.

This chart shows that Iceland took in 16 of the 36 asylum seekers who applied from Iraq in 2016. The other 16  were cases rejected under the  Dublin Regulation, and 3 withdrew their applications or left. If we are informed correctly that Iceland has never accepted and appeal from asylum applicants who’s point of entry is Norway, then the family Sabre never had a chance to begin with.  All their efforts were in vain.  According to this chart other families from Iraq were granted asylum.  Were they quota refugees? Did they apply outside of Iceland? Although some of this information is on the website and in English, the people fleeing their country and seeking asylum rely on translation apps and samaritans to assist them. Qualified social workers with access to translators are imperative as their existence and decisions for any future depends on being informed.  

Had the family Sabre known that their fate was predetermined, they might have focused their time and effort in applying for asylum in other countries or solidified work contracts. Now they are in a worse situation than when they began. The family is now separated.  The daughters are on their own for the first time with out their parents and it is improbable that they will receive the assistance they need in the overcrowded retention centers they are being held in. 

No Official responsibility

Volunteering at the Red Cross was how I met the family Sabre. After their second appeal for asylum was rejected, they came to my home devastated and feared for their lives. In the last year many friends and acquaintances in Iceland and from Europe have come to Iceland to help the family Sabre. We are group of about 10 - 15 friends who befriended the family and tried to change a system which was designed to fail them.

Mr. President
After the family Sabre received their terrible verdict I wrote to the president of Iceland to inform him that this family was scheduled for deportation that day, that the daughters fled prior to deportation and that their parents were extremely worried that they may commit suicide. He replied that he does not have the authority to act on individual cases, he is ready to hold meetings with Solaris and the Red Cross, however that I should contact the relevant officials and ministries. Solaris and the Red Cross were already aware of the family and their critical situation and were doing all they could to support the family through official channels.

The Ministry of Justice
The secretary Ministry of Justice said that it could take a few weeks for the minister to reply. I stressed that waiting 2 weeks could very well be too late as the girls who fled are just 18 and 20. The youngest suffers from psychological disorders and and their parents fear that they are suicidal. They will do all that they possibly canto avoid returning to what they fear as a certain death in Iraq. She listened and suggested I contact the hospital. I was informed that there was nothing more I could do.

The Pirate Party
Dear Oktavía, considering the unusual and unprecedented course of events, how can we get an appointment with the Icelandic authorities to communicate the mental health of the girls?” Oktavia would bring this to her MP who would then hopefully in turn present it to parliament.

Many friends, representatives from Solaris, and other parties contacted their lawyer, the police and other officials. The family Sabres lawyer was notified that the police were looking for the girls and believed that their parents were deported. We sought help from NOAS in Norway. However NOAS can only track applicants if they receive power of attorney and are provided a DUF number. This was missing in their forms. NOAS replied per email that the forms are useless unless they are properly scanned and submitted in PDF form.


In the meantime the news reports of a man who has committed suicide by jumping into the Gullfoss, believed to be a refugee.

Photos Christian Rølla

A Face Book Status from Elín Matthildur Kristinsdóttir after the girls went missing: This is Iceland today

You can go on behalf of the Red Cross to meet asylum seekers and lessen their moments of difficult times. It can give many things in return; singing together, knitting, practicing Icelandic, eating together ... It's fun when it’s happening and gives one understanding.  You can be more connected with some more than others, and even communicates on your own with them.  Although it isn’t in the spirit of the Red Cross to do more for some than for others.   I understand this -  it is in the spirit of equality and impartiality.

In recent months, I have been trying very hard to support one family with whom I developed a special relationship with. I wrote letters that were submitted to their appeal.  The two daughters are the same age as two of my daughters.  They received in the end a denial on that day. I wasn’t confident to support them at their hearing. The family was inconsolable, as we were expecting, and filled with despair.  They needed medical attention and counseling. The sisters fled and went into hiding the day immigration had to retrieve them to expel them.  They could not handle it or agree to be taken. Nobody knows where they left or where they are. Nor do I know. Nor the parents who fear they will take their lives. This really does not surprise me.  It’s a better choice than being robbed and raped - what awaits them in their homeland. These conditions have transformed these joyful, curious and shy girls into a complete wreck of hopelessness and despair. I've been in touch with them recently but I do not know about their recent fate. Probably the parents were expelled, without a court. Perhaps the girls were found and they threw them all out of the country. Nobody knows. The connection was lost. Was dismantled. All I know is that they are somewhere, scared and desperate. They gave up all hope and lost all faith in humanity.

I have seen unlimited gratitude deviate from the bottomlessness of despair.  Hope turns into absolute hopelessness, and faith in compassion becomes a cheerful hope. They cannot believe the insensibility they face and it's terrible to be able to do nothing. Not a real thing.  Sure, write a petition, write the attorney's a letter and send emoji hugs and hearts to the family. This I do. With disgust, as I know that we are all equally sick and powerless yet we do not change anything. That's the world today. This is Iceland today.

Photos Christian Rølla

The International Photographer Christian Rølla from Norway has been to Kurdish Iraq twice in the last year for a total of 5 weeks photographing refugee camps. 

He thinks Iraq is anything but safe.

Christian Røllas graduated from the Bilder Nordic School of Photography and has traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq to understand and see for himself what is really happening in war torn countries.

Friends of the Family Sabre:

We have a group chat where we post all of our information. We are all from different countries: Ireland, Colombia, Norway, the US and Iceland. There are about 10 to 15 of us who have shared meals, played games, sung songs, and celebrated birthdays together with the family Sabre. The brothers Geir and Eirikur Theodórsson, and Oktavía Hrund Jónsdóttir hosted live feeds to try and bring understanding into the homes of our neighbours and friends. The Norweigian Photographer Christian Rolla lived with the family for several days documenting their lives in limbo with dignity and gave talks about his first hand accounts of the dangers of being in Iraq. Aishling Muller made a short film together with the family reflecting their hardship and uncertainty. Logan Lee Smith has assisted them with their communication with the lawyer, translators and much more. Jimmy Salinas, Natalia, Juan, Egill, Unnur, Ulla, Salah, and Heidi and many more showed their love and friendship.

Film on facebook by  Jimmy Salinas

Facebook Interview Michelle Bird

Aishling Muller: try to imagine yourself in this situation...terrifying... right? 

Having worked with the sabre family while making a short documentary about their story was a challenging journey for me. Not only were there communication issues as the family do not speak so much English but also I was personally struggling hard to maintain an emotional distance from the situation. I stepped into a world that was so alien to me which was at the same time such an incredibly real sequence of events with life changing consequences firstly for the family but also with impact for all of those who have been involved with them trying to find a solution for them. 

Shortly after completing my video work with the family the messages started coming in on a shared messenger feed that the families case was being brought up for appeal and the final decision as to wether they could stay in Iceland or not was coming closer. I found myself trying to be as supportive as I could from a distance. I did not have it in myself to be present with them at that time as I felt the situation to be so wrong and unjust. It was almost like some emotional paralysis. From my own selfish perspective I felt the need to protect myself in my little bubble to not be emotionally affected by the result. I guess that is what we all do, we look away to the side and continue on with our lives like none of these really huge problems in the world exist today. Its kind of like the idea if I don't see it then it doesn't effect me, which is such an easy solution for us as individuals with such detrimental results for us as a species. The morning of the appeal I was aware that at any minute a message would come informing me on the result. The result came in and it was negative, the family had been asked to prepare themselves to leave the country, a process which was thought by our little community could take up to 3-4 weeks. 

As the days continued it became clear very quickly that this process was to be much quicker and that the family were in fact given a deadline of one week from that day where they would be collected at their house by the police and detained for the evening before their deportation back to Norway. I have to admit I found this the most disgusting turn of events, and saw absolutely no need for the detainment of the family. Is this normal behavior in those situations, and even if it is, does that make it any less disgusting? Given this situation I felt it was inhumane to need to detain people and make them feel like lesser people since they had just been hit with the huge blow that they would most likely be sent back to the unstable environment which awaits them in Kurdish Iraq. From all accounts the situation seemed to stand at deportation back to Norway with very likely return to Iraq meaning that they would be in fear of their lives again and back in the situation that they fled from in the beginning of this story. 

I spent some time with the family at their youngest daughters 18th birthday party interviewing them about all that they had been through in the last two years. When I took on the project I had already decided that I would keep myself quite away from all the political discussions and anything concerned with a legal nature of their appeals process as I felt that my role to play was simply that of giving the family a voice and a platform to share their own personal story. I know little of the legalities and the processes of the system in these cases and felt that this was the right decision and place for me to hold within this process. Maybe this keeps me a little naive about the whole thing or maybe it allows me to view the story from the outside as a human interest story of the most distressing nature. To see this family as real people suffering real uncertainty, danger and insecurities. 

As the days continued to role by messages streamed past me from all the others who were very busy doing their best, to do all they could for the family now in the countdown of the last days before the deportation. I could tell that many of the people involved were emotional and distressed for the family and so trying everything they could to help. Even though I was not directly involved within this process it was still something which weighed heavily on my mind, how can anyone not be moved by this, here was a family of four which had now been dealt the most terrifying blow that they could ever imagine. For almost one year they had been given asylum In Iceland and living in the safe bubble that being an asylum seeker here provides. They had a safe roof over their heads and food on the table and clothes to wear, their basic needs for survival were being met. Then from one day to the next they are then faced with the fact that they will most likely will be returned home to Kurdistan to a place where by their own accounts they are unsafe. They fear for the safety of their lives there for their family members and for themselves. By their accounts it is very likely that at right this minute as you are reading this text they are in hiding or staying indoors afraid to step out in an environment where weapons are readily available and being used on a regular basis with no consideration for the value of human life. Just reflect for a moment and try to imagine yourself in this situation.....terrifying.... right? 

Interview by Aishling Muller

Film on Facebook by Jimmy Salinas

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