Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: Residents Evacuated Again

Residents of Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, were evacuated from six of the town’s streets yesterday evening due to the danger of landslides. The National Police Commissioner, in consultation with the East Iceland Chief of Police and the region’s Met Office, has declared a phase of alert in the town due to landslide risk. Over a dozen of the town’s buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged by mudslides last December.

There was heavy rainfall in the town yesterday evening and across the region. Rain combined with thawing snow and above-freezing temperatures are conditions that increase the likelihood of landslides from the steep slopes above the fjord town. The evacuation was called “precautionary” by authorities, who are still evaluating whether the Botnabrún slope has destabilised further following the largest of the December landslides. Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing in the mountains on Thursday.

East Iceland experienced a high number of avalanches, slush floods, and landslides over last weekend. Three houses in Seyðisfjörður were also evacuated on Sunday, February 14 but the evacuation order was called off the following day.

A Different Kind of Ash Wednesday

Today marks Ash Wednesday, a holiday celebrated across Iceland during the Lent season. Ash Wednesday traditions in Iceland are somewhat similar to Hallowe’en traditions in North America. Children in Iceland dress up in costumes for the holiday and sing to receive candy. This year, Icelandic health authorities have issued guidelines for celebrating the holiday while keeping infection prevention in mind.

There are records of Ash Wednesday celebrations in Iceland as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Kids have been dressing up for the holiday for most of the 20th century. RÚV footage from 1967 shows children in Akureyri in costume and playing traditional games on the holiday.

Health authorities’ guidelines include the following:

  • Celebrating the holiday within your close environment: at home, in school, at children’s recreational centres and community centres.
  • Dressing up regardless of your age to bring some fun into your daily routine.
  • Reviving old traditions like öskudagspokar, a game involving pinning small bags on others, as well as the barrel game (seen in the 1967 video linked above) while keeping infection prevention in mind.
  • If children will go from house to house in search of candy, authorities encourage parents to check in advance where children will be welcomed.
  • Those giving candy are encouraged to only distribute candy that is individually wrapped.

Ministers Receive 45,000 Signature Petition Reopen Asylum Seeker Case

Uhunoma Osayomore

Friends of Uhunoma Osayomore, a 21-year-old man from Nigeria, delivered a petition signed by over 45,000 to Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir yesterday, asking them to grant international asylum or a humanitarian visa in Iceland. According to a RÚV report, His lawyer states that when his application was denied, neither the Directorate of Immigration nor The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board took into consideration the fact that Uhunoma was the victim of human trafficking. 

Áslaug Arna accepted the signatures and stated that while ministers don’t interfere in individual cases, they’re always looking for ways to improve the system. She added that Iceland accepted more refugees than the countries around us. Friends of Uhunoma delivered the signatures to the ministers, stating that he hoped they would be well received and that the case might be reopened. When the signatures were delivered, Katrín stated: “These are many signatures and we’ll look into it.”

Uhunoma’s lawyer has stated that the Directorate of Immigration and the appellatory committee had overlooked the fact that he was the victim of human trafficking, both in his home country and on his way to Iceland. They had previously ruled that Uhunoma could not prove that he would be persecuted if he returned to Nigeria.

Uhunoma’s story is a tragic one. The petition states that he was 16 when he left his home in Nigeria after his mother was murdered by his father and his younger sister died in an accident. Things went from bad to worse when he was caught by a human trafficker in Lagos, where he witnessed murders, was kept captive in a barn and suffered repeated sexual violence. For three years, he lived in refugee housing in Italy.

After a year in Iceland, Uhunoma has gained a new life and a loving family and friends. He has a home with an Icelandic family of 6. In the petition, Uhunoma’s friends state that “A temporary work permit was applied for Uhunoma, which was rejected, although he has a job waiting as soon as a permit is obtained for him to work in this country. Uhunoma needs no assistance from the Icelandic state and has only one wish: to live a life devoid of fear as a legal citizen of Iceland with his Icelandic family and friends.”

The petition for Uhunoma’s plight was started less than two weeks ago and has reached more than 46,000 signatures at the time of writing. His friends stated that bringing his case to the media wasn’t an ideal situation but the last resort. In the recent past, such cases have periodically gained media attention and public support. While Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has repeatedly stated that ministers can’t interfere with individual cases, high-profile cases have sometimes resulted in institutions reconsidering earlier decisions.