Contradicting Statements from Cabinet on Deportation of Asylum Seekers

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

Icelandic authorities are set to deport around 300 asylum seekers, some of whom have been living in the country for a long time and put down roots. Many of the deportations were delayed due to the COVID pandemic, but Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has opposed making exceptions that would allow any of the group to stay in Iceland due to extenuating circumstances. Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has stated, however, that he is examining whether there are grounds for granting some of the individuals work permits that would allow them to stay in the country.

Exceptions for some groups

In a radio interview this morning, the Minister of Justice opposed making exceptions for some groups of asylum seekers over others. “What are we going to do with the people who come tomorrow then? Should the rules then apply to them or should we let the old rules apply? Just change the rules for these people and not others?” Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated, saying that such changes were not as simple as many people believed. In March of this year, Jón triggered a special article of Icelandic law to assist Ukrainian refugees arriving in Iceland by granting them international protection on the basis of a group assessment.

Most sent to Greece

The reason that the group of potential deportees is so high essentially boils down to restrictions that were in place during the height of the global COVID pandemic, the Minister of Justice has stated. The individuals facing deportation are from a number of different countries, and Iceland plans to send most of them back to Greece.

Reports from Amnesty International and statements from the Icelandic Red Cross and other human rights organisations in Iceland have condemned the living conditions faced by refugees in Greece, who often have difficult accessing housing and basic services, even in cases where they have been granted international protection. The Minister of Justice denied this was the case, stating that refugees who had received protection in Greece “have the same living conditions as Greek people do.”

Children’s rights a factor

Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson was singing a different tune when he spoke to Vísir reporters following a cabinet meeting today, however. He stated that he was reviewing whether there was a basis to grant some of the individuals in the group work permits that would allow them to continue living in Iceland. Among the group are families with children who have been attending school in Iceland, and Guðmundur Ingi stated that the rights of those children were an important factor to consider.

Refugee rights organisations Solaris, Refugees in Iceland, and No Borders Iceland have organised a protest against the deportations this Saturday, May 28 in Austurvöllur square.

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Welcomed Icelandic Delegation

microsoft icelandic

A delegation of Icelanders, including President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, met with representatives of tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Amazon in the US last week to discuss the incorporation of the Icelandic language into new technologies. In a television interview, Guðni stated that the meetings went well, with the corporations willing to increase collaboration with Icelandic language technology developers to ensure Icelandic could be used widely in the digital world.

Microsoft VP reads Icelandic noir novels

The Icelandic delegation met with Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President of the Cloud and AI group in Microsoft. They expressed their thanks for Microsoft’s inclusion of the Icelandic language in their software, including Word, which is available in Icelandic. Guthrie revealed to the delegation that he is a big fan of Icelandic Nordic noir author Arnaldur Indriðason and has read most of his books.

Speaking to devices is the future

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson stated that in the future, speaking to devices will be our main way of interacting with them: “and not just to ask our phone what time it is or what the capital of Costa Rica is, or something along those lines, rather this technology will be used in the healthcare sector, education, and so much more.”

Read More: Improving the Icelandic Language on Devices

The aim of the trip was to ensure that the technological developments that take place take the Icelandic language into account. The delegation was not on its knees, begging for that to happen, Guðni says, rather showed up armed with arguments and data about the importance of linguistic inclusion in the tech world. “We went to these technology giants with that in our suitcase and said: we’re going to work together,” Guðni stated. “We are going to invite you to cooperate and luckily we were well received everywhere.”

Read more about the newest developments in Icelandic language technology.

Formal Negotiations for Reykjavík City Council Begin

Einar Þorsteinsson

The Progressive Party has begun formal negotiations with the Social-Democratic Alliance, the Pirate Party, and the Reform Party on forming a governing majority on the Reykjavík City Council, RÚV reports. Under the leadership of first-time councillor Einar Þorsteinsson, the Progressive Party went from zero seats on the council to four following the May 14 municipal elections. Both Einar and incumbent mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson have stated they are not insistent on becoming mayor in the upcoming term: negotiations will focus on the issues before responsibilities are divided up.

Majority lost in election

Reykjavík’s four-party governing coalition of last term – consisting of the Social-Democratic Alliance, Reform Party, Pirate Party, and Left-Green Movement – lost two of its 12 seats in the election, and therefore its majority on the 23-seat Reykjavík City Council. The Social-Democratic Alliance and Reform Party both lost seats, the Left-Green Party held its single seat, while the Pirate Party increased its number of seats from two to three. As elsewhere in the country, the Progressive Party saw great success in Reykjavík, going from zero seats on the City Council to four. The Independence Party, while it received the largest proportion of the vote (nearly 25%), lost one seat, going from seven to six councillors.

Rule out coalition with Independence Party

As is normally the case for municipal elections in Reykjavík, no party won enough seats to form a majority on its own. While many different party coalitions are technically possible, several have been ruled out by party councillors, who are not willing to work with just anyone. The Left-Green Movement’s only councillor Lif Magneudóttir has stated the party will not participate in majority negotiations at all. The Pirate Party has ruled out a coalition with the Independence Party on political grounds, while the Social-Democratic Alliance, the Reform Party, and the Pirate Party have decided to band together in the negotiation process, ruling out a coalition that would include the Independence Party.

Socialist Party councillor Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir criticised the three-party grouping for negotiations, stating that the additional seats won by the Socialist Party and Pirate Party indicated voters were calling for a left-leaning city council, not a right-leaning one. The Socialist Party has refused to be in a majority government with the Reform Party, which it labels as a right-wing party.

“We see that the Reform Party speaks in favour of privatisation, outsourcing, and these market solutions, as was clearly stated in their election campaign. We Socialists speak for socialists and social solutions and very much in like with the emphases that should be expressed by the Social Democrats.”