Refugee Resettlement Cheaper Than Expected

An official review of refugee reception in the town of Mosfellsbær, just outside of Reykjavík, has revealed that the resettlement of fourteen LGBTQ+ refugees from Uganda in 2018 was cheaper than originally projected, RÚV reports. The municipality reported that the main difficulties it encountered were in trying to secure housing for the incoming residents. Otherwise, the resettlement process is considered to have been a great success.

Mosfellsbær had anticipated that the cost of resettling ten refugees would be ISK 44 million [$352,963; €310,475]. The actual expense, however, was much less: ISK 35 million [$280,810; €247,007]. One reason for the cost being less than expected was that the town had expected to provide interpreting services. All of the arriving refugees spoke English, however, which rendered this service unnecessary.

Learning new systems

In September 2015, Mosfellsbær submitted a statement to the Ministry of Welfare indicating that it would be interested in receiving refugees. Two years later, the town was given the opportunity to resettle a small group of LGBTQ+ refugees from Uganda who had been living in refugee camps in Kenya. This proposal was approved in January 2018 and the group, which consisted of ten adults and four children, arrived in Iceland two months later.

The new residents were initially supported by municipal funds. How much financial assistance each person received depended on a variety of factors, such as the size of the family and the type of residence they were given. At first, benefits were loaded onto electronic bank cards, but as many of the individuals were not familiar with online banking, these were later converted to cash payments. The report notes, however, that it didn’t take long for any of the new residents to get accustomed to the new technologies and before long, they were able to make use of online banking services and phone apps to monitor their bank accounts and access their funds.

The town also assumed the cost of educating the four children and provided all of the new arrivals with bus passes. Once all of the refugees had received their kennitölur (national ID numbers), they were able to apply for housing benefits and additional social support.

Housing difficulties

While financial matters were quick to sort themselves out, housing logistics proved to be more difficult. Only three individuals had housing ready for them when they arrived in Iceland, or shortly after. That is, two apartments were ready immediately, and one was ready a week later.

Those individuals whose permanent housing was not ready when they arrived were put up in hotels, guesthouses, or Airbnb properties in the interim. In at least one case, only short-term accommodations could be made, which meant that two people had to move several times. This temporary housing shortage resulted not only in inconveniences to the new residents but also a substantial extra expense for the municipality. It also happened that one of the arriving couples broke up shortly after their arrival in Iceland, which meant that an additional apartment needed to be sourced at the last minute.

Finding work

The new arrivals were eager to secure jobs and soon after their arrival, they were assisted in their search by a specially designated project manager. Later, they received guidance from an advisor with the Directorate of Labour. At the end of the initial adjustment period, nine of the ten adults had some form of paid employment, and three of these individuals had long-term employment contracts. The last of the adults was engaged in volunteer work twice a week.

Learning from experience

In its report about the resettlement process, Mosfellsbær acknowledged that providing housing had indeed been the biggest challenge it faced. It also noted, however, that the expectation that the refugees arriving together would want to make the transition into their new lives in Iceland together, as a group, was unrealistic. As this was not the case, the new arrivals’ social and resettlement education largely occurred on an individual basis.

Overall, Mosfellsbær reported that the community at large had been extremely supportive and that the resettlement process had gone well. On this basis, the Ministry of Welfare has asked the town to receive ten additional LGBTQ+ refugees from Kenya in 2019. Iceland has agreed to offer 75 people asylum this year, both LGBTQ+ individuals who are currently living in Kenya and Syrian refugees who are currently based in Lebanon.

The Ministry of Welfare believes that Mosfellsbær’s previous experience welcoming LGBTQ+ asylum seekers will be a great strength when accepting a second group of LGBTQ+ refugees this year. It is hoped that in so doing, Mosfellsbær will improve upon its reception process and therefore be able to effectively advise and support other Icelandic municipalities in welcoming and resettling refugees in the near future.

Majority of Icelanders Seriously Concerned About Global Warming

Just under 70% of Icelanders are seriously concerned about global warming, RÚV reports. Individuals level of concern about climate issues is, perhaps not unexpectedly, closely related to their political affiliations. These are among the findings of a recent survey on the matter conducted by the firm MMR.

Thirty-five percent of respondents reported being “very concerned” about global warming ad 33% said they were “fairly concerned.” Twenty-one percent said they were neutral on the issue, 5% said they were a little concerned and 6% said they were not very concerned.

Overall, women reported higher levels of concern about global warming than men, with 76% of women saying that they were either “very” or “fairly” concerned about the issue, as compared to 60% of men.

The youngest and the oldest people surveyed reported the highest level of concern, although the older the respondent, the more likely they were to report having “little concern” about global warming. Sixteen percent of respondents 68 years and older said they had “little concern” about the issue, as compared to 7% of the youngest respondents, or those aged 18-29.

Political affiliation split people’s opinions on global warming fairly dramatically. Ninety-six percent of Social Democrats said they were “very concerned,” as did 89% of Left-Greens and 78% of Reform and Pirate Party supporters. Voters on the other end of the political spectrum did still report significant levels of concern, however. Indeed, 60% of Independence Party supporters said they were “very concerned;” 53% of People’s Party and 51% of Progressive Party supporters said they were concerned. Centre Party supporters reported the lowest level of concern, or 39%.

The survey was conducted from May 23 – May 29. Nine hundred and thirty-two respondents aged eighteen and older were selected at random to participate.

Arctic Circle Landmark Irks Locals

Grímsey’s wandering landmark, an eight-tonne [17,600-pound] concrete sphere that marks the point at which the Arctic Circle crosses the small island off the coast of North Iceland, has, since its installation in the fall of 2017, irked locals and tourists alike, reports.

Known as “Hringur og kúla,” in Icelandic or “Orbis et Globus” (‘Circle and Sphere’) in Latin, the monumental artwork was installed on the island in 2017 and was specifically designed to move, as the Arctic Circle is not a fixed point, but, as explains “…is defined by the tilt of the Earth toward or away from the sun, which is known to fluctuate up to 2.4 degrees every 40,000 years or so. Currently, the Arctic Circle is actually moving north from Iceland at a rate of about 48 feet per year.”

And so, every year, the giant sphere has to be moved to follow the circle. According to creator Kristinn E. Hrafnsson, this movement, which is “a direct reference to nature’s progress and perpetual motion,” is precisely what makes the work so affecting. Some locals, however, feel that it creates unmanageable expectations for tourists who only have a limited time on Grímsey. Some are suggesting that it be moved closer to town.

“What the sphere has primarily done is to draw all the tourists out of town,” remarked Guðrún Inga Hannesdóttir, who is a member of the Grímsey town council. “It’s a three-hour round-trip walk [to its location on Grímsey’s northern coast] from the port, which is really dubious when people come on flights and only have an hour and a half. Before, the [Arctic Circle] was right by the airport and everyone was really happy to cross it.”

No Whaling This Summer

whale Iceland hvalur

There will be no whaling conducted in Icelandic waters this summer, neither of minke whale nor of fin whales. RÚV reports that this will be the first time in 17 years that whaling has not been conducted in Iceland during the summer season.

Whaling resumed in Iceland in 2003, after a 14-year hiatus. When it started again, it was for scientific purposes. Commercial whaling then resumed again in 2006. Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson issued an authorization in February which allowed for fin and minke whaling to continue until 2023, although whaling regulations are to be renewed every five years. The Marine and Freshwater Institute has recommended a maximum annual quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales; this official annual quota will be valid from 2018 to 2025.

The decision to suspend whaling this summer stems from commercial, rather than specifically ethical reasons or protests. For instance, Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, the only company to hunt fin whales, announced earlier this month that Hvalur would not be whaling this summer, but made a point of saying that the decision had nothing to do with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza docked in Reykjavík harbour.

Initially, Kristján said that the decision to suspend whaling this summer was based on the fact that the company’s permits did not arrive until February, which he said was too late to allow for the necessary ship maintenance. More recently, Kristján has added that conditions on the Japanese market, where all of Hvalur’s fin whale catch is exported, have not been profitable enough to make whaling worth it this season.

Gunnar Bergmann Jónsson, the CEO of IP útgerð, which focuses on the domestic market, echoed Kristján’s sentiments. “As the situation stands right now, it doesn’t suit us [to whale this season]” he remarked. “So we made the decision to skip it.” IP útgerð will instead focus its efforts this summer on harvesting sea cucumbers. Gunnar explained that he would be importing Norwegian whale meat to address local demand and said that his company plans to resume whaling again next spring.

The Marine and Freshwater Institute also confirmed that there would be no whaling for research purposes this summer.