Norway News

Several stories that appeared in Aftenposten recently:

1. Norway toughens up citizenship rules

Starting September 1, 2008, nearly all those seeking citizenship will be required to document that they've had 300 hours of lessons in the Norwegian language and in Norwegian life and society.

Those lacking documentation will have to take a language test that will measure comprehension of Norwegian and their ability to speak and write Norwegian. The state's goal is to make sure that would-be citizens can get along in Norwegian on a daily basis.

The only foreigners exempt from the language rules will be those under age 18 or over age 55. All, however, will still need to document seven years of legal residence in Norway.

2. Immigrant appointed to head UDI (the Norwegian immigration agency)

Ramin-Osmundsen, who came to Norway 14 years ago from Martinique, has been appointed to head Norway's immigration agency.

Many would-be immigrants view UDI as a faceless bureaucracy that takes months on end to review cases and issue the work and residence permits necessary to live in Norway. And then those permits must be renewed every year for three years, until permanent settlement permits can be granted.

In the meantime, immigrants live with a high degree of uncertainty, even when they've been recruited to Norway because of special job skills or education, when they're sponsored by an employer or married to a Norwegian citizen. Ramin-Osmundsen is acutely aware that decisions made by UDI play a huge role in the personal and everyday lives of many people, Norwegians and immigrants alike.

"Therefore we will be more sensitive towards our users, and develop services and channels that will offer good and effective service," she said after her appointment was made official on Friday.

3. And she's already facing a political uproar

The new director of Norway's immigration agency (UDI) is already calling on help to ensure that political mandates are carried out. Politicians from across party lines remain in an uproar after learning that UDI broke their rules by granting temporary residence permits to 182 Iraqis, several of whom have criminal records.

Former government minister in charge of immigration issues, Erna Solberg, opposed granting the permits and wanted the Iraqis sent back to Iraq. She claimed the would-be Iraqi immigrants had no permanent jobs, couldn't support themselves or their families and that several had been convicted of crimes.

Instead, UDI waited until Solberg, who heads the Conservative Party, was out of office and then issued the permits, in defiance of her instructions.

4. Comedian burns bible

Otto Jespersen, one of Norway's most controversial comedians, has caused another stir by burning pages from the Bible in the heart of a conservative West Coast city

This week, with the help of the local fire brigade, Jespersen lit a bonfire in front of Ålesund's city hall. With cameras rolling for his TV show "Rikets Røst," Jespersen first started burning some Norwegian books. Then, with the willing cooperation of Ålesund Mayor Arve Tonning, he threw paper money on the flames.

Tonning went along with the stunt to tease local residents known for their business sense and knack for making money. But then Jespersen ripped out several pages from the Bible's Old Testament and threw them on the fire. Tonning didn't like that and said he tried to stop Jespersen, but was ignored.

Odd Bondevik, the conservative local bishop, was also disgusted by Jespersen's stunt. "We've just been through a process in Norway about trying to understand how important it is to hold some things holy," said Bondevik, referring to the recent uproar over the publication of cartoons offensive to Muslims. "Otto Jespersen has lost respect for the holy with such an offense."

Bondevik said he won't pursue the matter, but hopes Jespersen's channel, TV2, will show "editorial responsibility" in the matter.

(The Old Testament is Judaism's holy book, but it seems nobody is going to pursue the matter.)

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