Iceland to Receive Additional Refugees from Afghanistan

Iceland’s cabinet approved a motion this morning to receive an additional 35-70 people from Afghanistan due to the current situation in the country following its takeover by the Taliban. Iceland received a group of refugees from the country last autumn. A notice from the government states that living conditions in the Middle Eastern country have been deteriorating rapidly in recent months and the government considers it urgent to take further action. Single women in a vulnerable position who have close ties to Iceland, as well as their children, will be prioritised.

“Due to unrest and disintegration following the Taliban’s takeover, the government agreed at its meeting on August 24, 2021 to assistant and receive a specified group of Afghans with ties to Iceland,” the notice reads. “At the suggestion of the Refugee Committee, special emphasis was placed on individuals who worked with or for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, former students at the International School for Gender Equality in Iceland (GRÓ-GEST) and individuals who were entitled to family reunification or whose residence permit had already been approved.” 

The government estimated this first group would amount to between 90 and 120 people, but a total of 78 came to the country last autumn via the initiative. One family of five did not accept the invitation to move to Iceland, while 40 others received permits to stay in other countries. The exact number of refugees that is to be received in this new initiative will depend on family composition.

Iceland Tightens Domestic COVID-19 Restrictions

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

Tighter domestic COVID-19 restrictions take effect in Iceland at midnight, Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced following a cabinet meeting this morning. The general gathering limit will be lowered from 20 to 10 people, and bars and clubs will be closed. Events and performances will not be permitted under the new rules – previously up to 200 guests could attend an event provided they presented a negative rapid test. The new rules will remain in force until February 2. 

At the press conference, Katrín Jakobsdóttir also announced that the government was preparing response measures to support tourism operators and event organisers. Insurance and tax deadlines for restaurants would also be postponed in order to ease financial strain in the restaurant industry. 

Iceland reported 1,113 new domestic cases yesterday and a total of 9,671 active cases. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that daily case number must be reduced to 500 in order to protect the healthcare system. There are currently 43 patients in hospital due to COVID-19, eight of whom are in intensive care. Some 140 hospital staff are in isolation due to COVID-19 infection. While Omicron has become the dominant variant in Iceland, the Delta variant continues to cause cases of serious illness, causing additional strain on the National University Hospital’s COVID-19 ward.

Swimming pools and gyms may continue to operate at 50% capacity as before. Regulations for schools and after-school centres will remain unchanged, although the Health Minister stated that authorities would monitor the situation daily and respond to changes as necessary.