Call on Social Affairs Minister to Address Xenophobic Comments

Efling Labour Union has released a statement calling on the Minister of Social Affairs to take responsibility for xenophobic comments made by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary at a panel on immigrants on the Icelandic labour market last week.

Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason was invited to speak on a panel last Friday at the University of Iceland at a one-day conference focused on immigrants on the Icelandic labour market. Ásmundur was unable to attend the event, but sent the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Gissur Pétursson in his place.

“Is the translation correct? Where am I?” Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza, a migration policy specialist, asked herself after hearing Gissur’s comments. According to both Efling and City Councillor Sabine Leskopf, Gissur said foreign workers were an asset because they were easy to get rid of when an economic downturn begins. Gissur also stated that it was foreign workers’ responsibility to inform themselves about their rights and create the working conditions they want. Gissur expressed his belief that it was worthless to fund Icelandic classes for immigrants because foreigners couldn’t be bothered to learn Icelandic.

“The comments aroused fear and anger among panel participants and audience members,” reads the statement, signed by Efling’s Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir and Vice-Chair Agnieszka Ewa Ziolkowska, who describe Gissur’s discourse as being “completely out of context with the basic premises of the discussion – that people of foreign origin working on the Icelandic labour market are people, human beings.”

According to Efling’s statement, Ásmundur has responded to the situation by saying he is ill-informed about what Gissur said on his behalf in the panel discussion.

Record Number of Icelandic Books Published in 2019

A record number of works of fiction are set to be published this year in Iceland, RÚV reports. A surge of publications in children’s literature, poetry, and other genres suggest this year’s Christmas Book Flood will be the biggest yet. Bryndís Loftsdóttir of the Icelandic Publishers Association says there are many reasons for the increase.

“This looks like it’s going to be an absolute record year in terms of publication in many genres and thus also perhaps possible to say that there is an incredible amount of growth and an unbelievable amount of new, young writers stepping forward,” Bryndís stated.

Children’s literature publications have increased by 47% from last year, and young adult books by 39%. Icelandic works of fiction are 21% more numerous than last year, while 51% more poetry books and plays will be published this year than in 2018.

Bryndís says that there is no one aspect that explains the increase, but that publishers’ optimism, as well as passion in the industry play a part. “Then there’s the country’s enjoyment of reading.”

Another aspect is a new system established by the government this summer which allows publishers to apply for partial reimbursement of costs related to publication of books in Icelandic. The committee has received 157 applications since the system was launched this summer, 99 of which have already been approved.

Bryndís says Icelanders will have plenty of books to choose this Christmas. “You want to tell readers, of course read your favourite author but also give yourself time to get to know all of these new names that are coming up and their work.”

Fans of Icelandic literature who don’t speak the language will also be glad to hear that translations of Icelandic literature into foreign languages have tripled over the past decade. Around 40 titles have recently been translated into English, or will soon be published in English, in the US and UK, according to the Icelandic Literature Centre.

Deported at Nine Months Pregnant

An Albanian couple and their two-year-old son were deported from Iceland last night, despite the mother being nine months pregnant. The woman checked into hospital yesterday evening due to a nosebleed where she received a medical certificate stating that “a long flight would be hard for her.” The Directorate of Immigration has stated that the certificate did not indicate flying would put the woman at risk.

The 26-year-old woman, days short of 36 weeks pregnant, was deported early this morning along with her husband and two-year-old son. The woman experienced a nosebleed yesterday evening and was taken to hospital, where she was examined in the Women’s and Children’s Services department. There she received a certificate confirming she was over 35 weeks pregnant which stated “she has had problem with back pain and a long flight would be hard for her.”

Police however, procured a so-called “fit to fly” certificate for the woman from another doctor, who the woman asserts she has never met.

Pregnant women “not accepted for travel”

A notice on Icelandair’s website states: “Expectant mothers must be in possession of a medical certificate not issued earlier than 72 hours prior to commencement of travel if they are in their last month of pregnancy or have previously experienced a premature birth. Expectant mothers in the last two weeks of pregnancy will not be accepted for travel.”

The Directorate of Immigration released a statement around noon today, asserting that the deportation was legal, as individuals who have been denied international protection and have no other right to reside in the country must leave Iceland according to law. A post from No Borders Iceland states, however, that the family has not received a written response to their application from the Directorate, and it is therefore possible their case has not been closed.

According to the Directorate, if a certificate is provided stating that travel will put the individual at risk, the deportation is delayed until the situation changes. The Directorate did not consider the wording of the certificate written last night to indicate that the woman was put at risk by flying.

Directorate of Health investigates

“We naturally take this very seriously,” Kjartan Hreinn Njálsson, Assistant to the Director of Health, told Vísir, saying that the Directorate of Health was requesting information in order to determine whether the deportation violated health regulations and if so prevent such a situation from happening again. “One cannot but take it seriously when the advice of experts and healthcare professionals is not heeded and not followed.”

New Airline PLAY Paints WOW Red

The new Icelandic airline founded from the bankruptcy of WOW air will be called PLAY. The company’s representatives held a press conference in Reykjavík’s Perlan building this morning to present the new company’s name as well as details of its coming operations. PLAY will swap out WOW’s quintessential fuschia colour for red.

According to PLAY’s CEO Arnar Már Magnússon, the colour red was chosen to represent passion as well as Icelandic nature. At the press conference, Arnar shed light on the company’s preparations during the past few months as well as its goals for the near future.

Last September, Michele Ballarin held a press conference in Iceland announcing her company USAerospace Associates’ purchase of WOW air’s assets, and their intention to resurrect the airline. At that time, Ballarin announced the airline would begin operations in October. Last month, that date was delayed until December and it was stated that the new airline would focus on cargo transport before it began operating passenger flights.

Operating licence in the works

PLAY will operate jets from the Airbus A320 family. Arnar pointed out that the short- to medium-range jets can carry both cargo and passengers to all of the airline’s planned destinations. Arnar stated that the company has yet to obtain an air operating licence, but is in the final stages of the process.

The airline will begin operations with flights to Europe, but plans to eventually operate flights to North America as well. Flights west across the Atlantic are expected to begin next spring, when the airline’s fleet will increase to six aircraft. Arnar declined to give details about specific destinations, but stated that PLAY plans to operate ten aircraft within the first three years of operations.

The airline’s website is up and running, and ticket sales are scheduled to begin this month. The airline is giving away 1,000 tickets to mark the beginning of operations. Arnar stated that PLAY will need an enormous amount of staff in a variety of positions, including flight crew and pilots. Positions in marketing, finance, programming, and customer service will also be available.

Controversial cargo?

“PLAY consists of people with a wide range of experience from the aviation industry from airlines such as WOW air and Air Atlanta,” reads a press release on the company’s website. The latter airline made headlines in March last year when it came to light that they had been transporting weapons to Saudi Arabia. Icelandic politicians have expressed concerns over PLAY’s intended cargo transport, as airlines under Ballarin’s leadership have partaken in weapons transport as well.