Special School Department for Children of Asylum Seekers Proposed

A report by a city committee on the reception and integration of children of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers proposes that a special support department be created in Vogasel near Vogaskóli school in Reykjavík. At the suggestion of the committee, children coming from other countries would be schooled for no more than 9 months at the department, before going to school in their own districts, Vísir reports.

This special department would be created for children ages 8 to 15 that require special assistance in starting studies in one of Iceland’s elementary schools. It would be implemented to especially meet the demands of children of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Helgi Grímsson, director of Reykjavík city’s Department of Education and Youth, says this would mean better support and easier access to professionals for these children and their families.

“It is of the utmost importance that we provide this group with the nourishment and shelter they need. If we immediately scatter this group amongst different schools, it’s possible we wouldn’t be able to provide them with the professional help they require,” Helgi says.

Helga Helgadóttir, director of special education at Vogaskóli school is not thrilled with the committee’s proposal. She says it is counter to how Vogaskóli works and as far as she’s concerned it’s not in compliance with elementary school laws nor The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Iceland’s elementary school laws stipulate that no student should be discriminated against due to their country of origin, and that children have the inalienable right to study in the country’s schools without discrimination.

Asked whether their proposals don’t run the risk of discrimination against children of immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, Helgi says that these are children that do need special attention in order to be able to thrive in Iceland’s school system and that study without discrimination is something Reykjavík city takes very seriously. He further states that they try to meet the needs of every child, something they are trying to do with this new proposal.

As Iceland Review previously reported, asylum seekers protested in downtown Reykjavík yesterday, calling for fair treatment and the abolition of the European Union’s Dublin Regulation amongst other things.

Kópavogur City Council Lowers Own Wages

Kópavogur’s city council has decided to lower the wages of its councillors by 15%, Vísir reports. The proposal was put forth by Kópavogur’s mayor, Ármann Kr. Ólafsson. This comes following Fréttablaðið’s reporting last year that revealed that Ármann’s salary had increased by 612 thousand ISK between years.

Despite his salary being the only one that received harsh criticism at the time, the mayor not only proposed that his own salary be reduced, but also that of of other council members.

Ármann’s salary was reduced in early June of last year. They went from 2.5 million ISK to 2.1 million. Despite that he is still one of the highest paid representatives in the country.

The city council’s unanimous decision to lower wages by 15% means that council member salaries will be reduced from 353.958 ISK to 300.864 ISK a month. Salaries for other committee work will remain unchanged.

Doubts About Lowering Municipal Voting Age

iceland parliament

A bill proposing that voting age for municipal elections should be lowered to 16 years is being prepared by parliament, RÚV reports. The bill suggests that every Icelandic citizen that is 16 years old on election day should be allowed to vote in municipal elections. The bill also suggests that citizens of other Nordic countries having had regal residence in Iceland for 3 years or longer should be able to vote at 16 years of age, as well as other foreign citizens that have had legal residence for 5 years or longer.

Parliament has reached out to different municipality councils across the country asking for feedback on the bill, with many of them, including the municipality of Hvalfjarðarsveit and Árborg, saying that they’d prefer the voting age remain at 18 years old. Hvergerðisbær’s town council also chimed in, saying that it would not feel right about separating voting age and the age of eligibility for candidacy.

Hvalfjarðarsveit does state, however, that there is cause to support democratic involvement of young people and increase their ability to influence society. The municipality suggests that this be achieved by strengthening youth councils within municipalities.

Many others request that they be given more time to discuss the proposed bill before handing in their assessment.

The Ombudsman for Children in Iceland has pointed out that in the 3 years that remain until the next elections, there is opportunity to increase social awareness of young people and fully prepare them to partake in the democratic process. “In our discussions with young people it has been made clear that they call for increased education on democracy, systems of government and politics in the older classes of elementary school and in high schools,” the ombudsman says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many youth organisations support the bill, both within and outside political parties.

The lowering of the voting age in municipal elections would be possible with a simple amendment to existing voting laws, whereas the lowering of voting age for parliament elections would require a change in Iceland’s constitution.

Borgarbyggð Lavishes Newborns With Gifts

The Municipality of Borgarbyggð has decided that from now on every new child born in the area will be welcomed into the world with a so called “baby package”. The project is a collaboration between the municipality and businesses and organisations in Borgarbyggð, Skessuhorn reports.

“It’s a cause for celebration in every community when a new individual is born into this word. Every birth and every individual is a miracle unto himself,” says the municipality’s mayor Gunnlaugur A. Júlíusson.

Yesterday, the first baby package was delivered to parents in a ceremony at the health clinic in Borgarnes. A boy, born January 2, had just witnessed his first six week checkup with his parents, Ásrún Kolbeinsdóttir and Arnór Orri Einarsson. The package is the first of many yet to come for Borgarbyggð’s newest members.

The baby package itself is a bag filled with supplies meant to help the parents and child in the early stages of infancy, the bag is filled with groceries and supplies from the local pharmacy and even the knitting store. The bag is made, filled and delivered to the Borgarnes health clinic by members of a workplace for the disabled in Brákarey, where they also make artefacts to round out the bag.

“Hopefully this new initiative will make the good will of those who worked on the package known to the parents of newborns. If so our goal has been reached,” Gunnlaugur says.