“They’re With Me”: Icelanders Campaign for Asylum Seeker Family on Social Media

The police have officially requested information from the public on the whereabouts of the Egyptian Khedr family, after their planned deportation last week proved unsuccessful. The decision to deport the family is controversial, and several people have responded on social media under the hashtag #þaueruhjámér (they’re with me), to show support for the family as well as to flood the police with leads.

If the tips on Twitter and Facebook under the hashtag #þaueruhjámér are to be believed, the family is simultaneously in Hafnarfjörður, West Reykjavík, taking a stroll in the city centre, at someone’s house listening to Sonic Youth, driving the South Coast, and on a couch watching the Gilmore Girls. Sympathetic Icelanders also suggest the police look for the family in hiding as far as in Amsterdam’s Anne Frank Museum or as far as Seattle. The social media posts are intended to show support for the Khedr family, with multiple people claiming to be hiding the family and taking care of the children. Many also encourage the public to email the police directly at the email address provided with the request for information.

When the police arrived to escort the family of six to the airport on the day of their planned deportation, Ibrahim Khedr, his wife Dooa, and four children were not at their place of residence and haven’t been seen since. The family had requested asylum on the grounds of political persecution due to the father’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been in Iceland for more than two years, and their case is controversial in part since regulations state that families with children that have waited for more than 16 months for their asylum application verdicts be granted asylum on humanitarian grounds. They are believed to still be in the country.

The Khedr family’s lawyer, Magnús Davíð Norðdahl, filed a lawsuit in the Reykjavík District Court yesterday on behalf of the family and requested accelerated proceedings, stating that authorities had not done an independent and comprehensive assessment of the children’s best interest. He said the Directorate of Immigration never investigated whether the mother and ten-year-old daughter were in a particularly sensitive position as over 90% of women in Egypt had suffered genital mutilation.

“No investigation was made into whether the mother and daughter were victims of such violence or if they were at risk,” Magnús told Vísir. “The Directorate of Immigration ruled in the case of another Egyptian family early in 2019 and in their verdict, covered the frequency of female genetic mutilation in Egypt extensively but as stated earlier, over 90% of women there have suffered such violence,” says Magnús. In the 2019 case, the family was granted asylum.

The lawsuit and accelerated process request are now in the hands of Símon Sigvaldason, Chief Judge at the District Court of Reykjavík.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Violated Isolation and Infected Over 100

Irishman pub

Around 100 domestic cases of COVID-19 that have arisen in Iceland the past few days can be traced to a pair of French tourists that came to the country in mid-August, Vísir reports. The two were put into isolation after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, but broke regulations. Three different strains of SARS-CoV-2 are responsible for Iceland’s 281 active cases.

In the last five days, 196 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Iceland. Over half of the new infections can be traced to the Irishman pub and Brewdog restaurant, both in downtown Reykjavík. “Most of the infections in recent days originate from these two places. These are probably around 100 people or just over that,” Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated.

Þórólfur added that there are three strains of the virus currently circulating. One is the so-called “Akranes” strain, while another is the “French” strain that arrived with the aforementioned tourists in August. The French strain is the strain that infected patrons of the two establishments in Reykjavík, who account for most of the country’s recent cases.

“I have information that it was difficult to get them to follow instructions,” Þórólfur stated of the two French tourists, who were put into isolation after testing positive. “I really cannot say more.”

Those who break isolation can face a fine of ISK 150,000-250,000 ($1,100-1,800/€900-1,500), depending on the severity of the violation. It is not known whether the two tourists were in fact fined.

City of Reykjavík Spent ISK 2 Million on Working Environment Report

A report the City of Reykjavík commissioned on the working environment within City Council had a price tag of ISK 2 million ($14,500/€12,300), RÚV reports. Centre Party Councillor Vigdís Hauksdóttir has filed a complaint with the Data Protection Authority regarding the appraisal and requested the Ministry of Local Government repeal the report. Some City Council members have described the working environment as “unbearable,” in part due to tension between Vigdís and the secretary of the mayor’s office, Helga Björg Ragnarsdóttir.

Accusations of Bullying

The City Council’s Execute Committee decided to hire psychological clinic Líf og sál to assess the working environment of the City Council and the psychosocial risk factors for staff who attend council meetings on a regular basis. At council meetings this term, Vigdís has turned her back on Helga and submitted minutes in which she criticises Hegla’s presence at the meetings. Both Vigdís and Helga have described the other’s behaviour as bullying.

Vigdís filed a complaint with the Data Protection Authority regarding the assessment, and it has responded by sending detailed questions to city authorities. She has also requested the Ministry of Transport and Local Government revoke the Executive Committee’s decision to have the audit done.

Participation Was Optional

The city council majority stated, however, that participation in the assessment was optional and that all were allowed to withdraw their consent. The assessment was not focused on specific individuals, rather risk factors in the work environment of those who chose to participate.

People’s Party Councillor Kolbrún Baldursdóttir has called the report “utter nonsense” and that the methods used by Líf og Sál were questionable. What was first and foremost necessary, stated Kolbrún, was to teach people some manners, and “that does not cost 20 million.”

Increased COVID-19 Testing in Capital Area

COVID-19 test

An increased effort will be put into COVID-19 testing in the capital area today after news broke that yesterday, people with symptoms weren’t getting appointments.  “The Chief Epidemiologist wanted to increase our effort and that we tested everyone who had symptoms or any history of possible contagion,” Director of the Healthcare Centres of the Capital Area Óskar Reykdalsson told RÚV.

Yesterday saw 38 new confirmed cases of the virus, half of which were already in quarantine. Óskar says that time slots for testing were filling up quickly yesterday, with many claiming to have symptoms. He nevertheless points out that only 3-5 % of those tested turn out to have COVID-19.

According to Óskar, the testing facility at Suðurlandsbraut is very well organised, and things move fast. “But we’re limited by the area around us, we can’t fit an unlimited number of cars there, for example.”

Twice the regular number of medical professionals will take samples in seven or eight places in the building, and today is going to be a busy day. “We’re expecting a large turnout, with the second border tests, a second test for people who are getting out of quarantine plus the people turning up for testing because of symptoms.” He expects that this reinforced testing efforts will result in between 3-4000 samples for testing, which could be the most tests taken in a day since testing started earlier this year.

Óskar says they might have to brandish the notorious testing swabs long into the night. “But we’re well organised, so we never need to stay longer than necessary.”

Reindeer Hunting Season is Over

A group of reindeer

This summer’s reindeer hunting season in East Iceland is over, with 1,263 animals felled out of the allotted 1,277.

Reindeer hunting takes place in the east of Iceland where the reindeer reside. While not native to Iceland, reindeer have been living in the east since they were imported in the late 18th century. With no natural predator, the reindeer are not endangered in Iceland but hunting is still subject to strict rules. Each hunter gets a permit for one specific animal in a specific area, and applications are selected via lottery. In addition to all necessary permits and the appropriate gun license, all hunters must travel with a licenced hunter guide.

Reindeer hunting in Iceland.

This year, 1,277 hunting permits for specific animals were issued but 1,263 of the hunts were successful, with 12 cows and two bulls that weren’t hunted. In November, 48 hunting permits for cows will be issued but only in limited areas.