Asylum Seekers Protest in Downtown Reykjavík

Asylum seekers in Iceland demonstrated in front of parliament today, Kjarninn reports. The demonstration, organised by No Borders Iceland, started at 16.00pm at Hallgrímskirkja, with protestors walking from the church to Austurvöllur, situated in front of Iceland’s parliament. The protestors demanded the Icelandic government cease deportation of asylum seekers and that they receive due process. They also called for the termination of Iceland’s involvement in the European Union’s controversial Dublin Regulation, as well as the dismantling of the Directorate of Immigration’s Ásbrú camp for asylum seekers.

Ásbrú is situated near Keflavík International Airport. In 2017 the Directorate of Immigration started housing asylum seekers there, a move No Borders Iceland criticises, saying asylum seekers are isolated at Ásbrú and kept out of sight. The organisation says that around 11 asylum seekers were deported from Ásbrú every week in 2018.

Furthermore, the organisation calls for asylum seekers to be able to apply for a temporary work permit whilst they await due process. They also lament that asylum seekers are without an Icelandic social security number whilst they wait, making everything from seeking medical assistance to securing proper housing all but impossible.

Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration handled 790 applications from asylum seekers in 2018, compared to 976 in 2017. Of those 790, 406 applications received procedural treatment, with 111 receiving priority treatment. In the end 152 asylum seekers were deported based on the Dublin Regulation, 70 people were denied stay based on their having already received protection in another country and 162 withdrew their application or did not follow through in one way or the other.

According to the Directorate of Immigration, out of those 406 applications that received treatment, a total of 160 individuals received international protection, additional protection or residence permits due to humanitarian reasons in 2018, while 246 were deported. No officials numbers have been issued for 2019.

The Dublin Regulation, criticised by No Borders Iceland, has long been a controversial system. According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the current system has failed to provide fair, efficient and effective protection, impeding the legal rights and personal welfare of asylum seekers.

Art Festival Lights Up Seyðisfjörður

Art festival List í ljósi (Art in Light) will celebrate its fourth instalment next weekend in Seyðisfjörður, RÚV reports. The festival is held in February to celebrate the sunlight, as it becomes more abundant after the darkness of Iceland’s winter months. As of yesterday, the festival is also an award winner, receiving the Eyrarrósin award for outstanding cultural event in Iceland’s countryside.

The festival, held February 16 and 17, features up to 30 light sculptures. At around 18.00pm next Friday, all of Seyðisfjörður’s street lights will be turned off, allowing the sculptures to light up the town until 22.00pm, the process will then be repeated on Saturday.

“We’re going to light up the bridge by the ferry, which is 30 meters long, that’s going to be very beautiful,” says Sesselja Hlín Jónasardóttir project manager and one of the festival’s founders. “We’re also going to light up the Herðubreið Community and Culture House by projecting 3D visuals onto it. We’re extremely excited about each and every project this year. It’ll be the festival’s biggest instalment yet.”

In addition to the two days of shadows and light, Seyðisfjörður is also playing host to the Flat Earth Film Festival, which is already under way, in addition to artist residencies in collaboration with the HEIMA art residency project. “We started the film festival in our second year, in order to make the program a little longer and more juicy,” Sesselja says. “And this year we’ll be visited by artists from all the Nordic countries who’ll live with us for two months, creating artworks just for the festival.

Yesterday List í Ljósi became the recipient of the coveted Eyrarrósin awards, that’s awarded to outstanding cultural events in Iceland’s countryside.

For more information, visit the festival’s homepage here.

Salaries of Government CEOs Under Scrutiny

Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, echoes statements made by other officials concerning the excessive pay raises of Lilja Björk Einarsdóttir, CEO of Landsbankinn, Kjarninn reports. “As far as I can tell, instructions made in early 2017 have not been heeded,” a disappointed Bjarni says.

The instructions Bjarni refers to were made by then Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Benedikt Jóhannesson, after it was decided in early 2017 to exempt government officials from decisions made by parliament’s salary council. At the time Benedikt urged all CEOs of government entities to show modesty in pay raises in the future. Instead, many have run amok.

Salaries of CEOs became a hot topic in Iceland this week after it was revealed that Lilja Björk Einarsdóttir, CEO of government owned bank Landsbankinn had managed to raise her monthly salary to 3.800.000 ISK, meaning that her pay increased by 82% in two years.

Lilja, however, is not the only one to have received a hefty pay raise. After being freed from parliament’s control, salaries of the head of The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service were raised by 16% to 1.8 million ISK a month, the salary of Isavia’s CEO were raised by 20% to 2.1 million ISK and the salary of the National Power Company of Iceland’s CEO were raised by 32% to 2.7 million ISK.

Bjarni Benediktsson says he has now sent a letter to all government CEOs, asking them to explain just exactly how they have followed Benedikt Jóhannesson’s instructions. He has said he will give everyone a chance to explain themselves, but does not exclude the possibility of parliament intervention in the future.

Procar Admits to Fraud

Car rental dealership Procar has admitted to fraudulent practises following last night’s episode of Kveikur, The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s news television program. The show revealed that someone at the company tampered with driving gauges of used cars between 2013 and 2015 to lessen their perceived mileage before selling them off, RÚV reports.

In a press release, issued in wake of Kveikur’s program, the car rental company admits to this but maintain that the person responsible is no longer working for the company.

Kveikur originally requested an interview with Procar’s CEO, who turned down the request, saying that he had no reason to suspect foul play within his company. But Kveikur has managed to obtain information that suggests the CEO’s account was used to change mileage information in Procar’s computer system.

This information has been handed over to the police, who are now investigating.

Procar’s official statement declares that while this breach of confidence is “inexcusable”, the company has full intention to make it up to those who bought one of their used cars between 2013 and 2015. “An independent party will be recruited to decide fair compensation for those who bought cars with misleading mileages during those years.”

Procar also apologised to clients, the public and the staff of Procar, who worked for the company in good faith.