The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration ruled Wednesday that a popular Oslo mosque would not be allowed to house refugees because all offers of help needed to be "neutral," a spokesman said. More than 700 refugees, mainly from Syria, were expected to arrive in Norway throughout the week and local authorities have begun setting up temporary housing ahead of their arrival.

"Those behind an offer of reception may well have basic values, even if they are religious or political," said Frode Forfang, the director of the Department of Immigration, as reported by the Local, adding "We could have used the Salvation Army -- or the Church City Mission, for that matter. But the actual offer needs to be neutral."

The Islamic Cultural Centre that made the offer is Norway's oldest mosque. One of the leaders there told journalists that the mosque is only a small part of the building and that, with its primary function as a community center, it could comfortably meet the sanitation and housing needs of many people.

The Oslo mosque was not the first religious institution to offer to help refugees. Pope Francis has called on Catholics worldwide to house and care for refugees in their homes and parishes.


Norway received 2,300 refugees in August, the highest number the nation has seen since the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. The government has struggled to accommodate such a large number of people, and even more refugees were expected to arrive throughout September.

"It cannot be a mosque or a church," said agency spokesperson John Olav Kroken, as reported by the Associated Press. He added: "I think they were disappointed because they wanted to help." Leadership from the Islamic Cultural Centre have said they respect the government's decision and will remain available to help if the situation changes.