The Importance of Accessing Education

The importance of accessing education: Former refugee, current President of the 3rd largest public University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The testimonial of Prof. Dawood Atrushi

"I went to Norway in 1987. And I came back to Kurdistan in 2004 to stay for a couple of years just to help as a volunteer. And then I have been here since then. I was planning to go back because I was working in Norway in a company. But the University’s President asked me to stay and help him in the administration. So, after 17 years of staying in Norway, I was back in Kurdistan."

Professor Dawood Sulaiman Atrushi, current President of the University of Duhok, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, has shared with us an important testimonial about his experience as a former refugee in Norway, leaving Kurdistan when he was a university student.

"I was a refugee in Iran two times because of the war against Kurds. My second time was in 1985. I was a university student at the College of Engineering in Mosul in 1985. And because of the political problems with the government, I had to leave Kurdistan and leave my studies. I went to Iran in 1985. And then after a couple of years there, where I tried to enroll at the University to continue my studies, they did not allow me to study. So in 1987, I went to Norway. And for me, it was a huge change, I became a refugee in Norway. Certainly, it was much better to be a refugee in Norway than in Iran. But for me, everything was new, the culture was new, the language was new, society was new. And it was very difficult in the beginning: I was thinking of going back to Iran. But I went to Norway with the main aim to study there. Iran had a lot of refugees at that time and had a war against Iraq. So they were certainly not very happy to receive refugees in Iran. And I did not get a chance to study there. So I went to Norway. In 1988, right after one year, I got admission to university. It was difficult, and it was also easy. It was difficult because everything was new for me even how to deal with your friends, how to deal with the professors, their culture was quite different from most of the Universities where I studied a couple of years. But at the same time, it was easy because the system was democratic, and there was transparency. They were helpful. Everything was in place: the support you get, you could get a loan from the government to live with. The university gave me a chance and made me as I am today: I am the product of that education and of what Norway provided me with help and assistance. I had never seen an Iraqi passport. My first passport was Norwegian. So you can imagine: your country prevents you from getting your passport, but you go, you become a refugee in a country like Norway, and they give you all what a human being needs for life. So, that certainly affected me and affected my life a lot."

Once back in Kurdistan, Prof. Atrushi finally stayed in his home country to help in building a University system more modern and with more attention to internationalization. During the years that saw him as Vice President for internationalization and also thanks to a visionary President, the University of Duhok was the first University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and in Iraq as well, to bring Erasmus Mundus to Kurdistan and Iraq. It was in the year 2007. In 2006, the European Commission launched, in fact, a new "Erasmus Mundus External Cooperation Window" which included Iraq too.

It was also thanks to his experience and study abroad that Professor Asmat M. Khalid, University of Duhok’s President from 1992 to 2011, asked him to help in the administration of the University of Duhok.

Today, the University of Duhok is the 3rd largest public University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It is among the partners of the Project APPRAIS and Prof. Atrushi strongly supports the work this project is conducting involving 8 Universities of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (KRG).

"I visited our APPRAIS partner University, the University of Oslo (UiO) lately. I am certainly very interested in establishing collaboration with UiO and other Norwegian HEIs, and with my Norwegian background, I hope inwardly I can succeed in that."

The project APPRAIS – governAnce, quality, accountability: a Piloting Reform PRocess in kurdistAn regionof Iraq – co-funded by the European Commission, in the framework of the Erasmus+ CBHE programme and coordinated by UNIMED, addresses governance, strategic planning, and management of higher education institutions, with a particular focus on enhancing the capacities of human resources and proposing a reform for the local Higher Education system through the implementation of the Bologna process. Besides the current work of the University of Duhok and the work of the project APPRAIS, the story and the experience that Prof. Atrushi has shared with UNIMED highlight the meaning of what UNIMED and many Universities and partners are doing in terms of providing strategies for better inclusion of refugees and migrants in the University system and in the hosting societies.

"I think, these people – added prof. Atrushi – if they get an opportunity, they can do a lot for the hosting countries. And I think they should also get support and get encouraged, in Europe, to go back and to help, wherever they come from, from Somalia, from Libya, from Kurdistan, from Iraq, from Syria: these people can give a lot.

"When I came back in 2004, the situation in Kurdistan was very bad. But I was very happy to help. The living condition here was very, very bad. I had three kids, they were small and were not going to school, so we can live with it. But, you can imagine, from the paradise in Norway we came to a situation where we did not have electricity, and only once per week water supply. The transportation was not that good. The working environment, the working place was so bad, but I was so happy. I had something to give. I came back to stay for a couple of years, and then I was supposed to go back and work at my company. But then they asked me to stay. So I stayed. And I have been here now for 18 years."

Prof. Atrushi also informed us that thanks to the Kurdistan Regional Government policy, many Kurds, with almost the same refugee story as his, are back in Kurdistan playing a significant role in helping and leading institutions in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. "We need to encourage more Kurdish diaspora and professionals to contribute to rebuilding the Kurdistan region," he says.

The University of Duhok, in collaboration with the World Kurdish Congress (WKC), is planning a huge conference for the Kurdish diaspora to be held at the University of Duhok in November 2022, where people from inside and outside Kurdistan can meet. The participation of foreigners and politicians is also foreseen.