Residents of Reykjavík’s Vesturbær neighbourhood rallied together this weekend to assist Ukrainian refugees who had been given accommodation in Hotel Saga. Residents arranged deliveries of food, clothing, and other essential items to the group of around 100 refugees who had been moved to the hotel on short notice. Nearly 600 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Iceland since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, more than one-quarter of them children.
Hotel not prepared
Gylfi Þór Þorsteinsson, who oversees the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Iceland, acknowledges that the facilities at Hotel Saga were wanting when refugees were moved there, but that the situation has been rectified. “There are beds in the rooms that have been taken into use. The cooking facilities are ready, were ready immediately on Friday. But it is quite right that cleaning and other such things were deficient in the common areas of the [hotel], which we fixed and completed over the weekend,” he told RÚV reporters.
Some of the refugees at Hotel Saga were relocated on short notice from Ásbrú, near Keflavík Airport, the roaring sound of nearby airplanes conducting NATO exercises caused children in the group to panic. Atli Viðar Thorstensen, director of the international department at the Icelandic Red Cross, points out that Iceland has never taken in as many refugees in such a short time, and “the scope is such that [efforts] may not always be as successful as they should be.” He says he believes authorities are doing a good job overall when it comes to receiving refugees from Ukraine, though situations like the one at Hotel Saga may come up.
Residents rally to provide clothing and food
Vesturbær resident Markús Már Efraim created a Facebook group to connect the refugees staying at Hotel Saga with others living in the neighbourhood. Locals have answered the call, arranging food for the group, donating clothing, and providing entertainment for the children at the hotel. Markús has asked would-be helpers to avoid emptying their storage lockers and simply dropping things off at the hotel, rather check first what is needed, either by looking at posts in the group or an online document that has been created where refugees can write down what they need.
As of the time of writing, residents are requesting bicycles or scooters for children and adults, as well as working to set up play dates between children at the hotel and other children living in the neighbourhood.