Minister of Justice: Not a Single Family to Be Deported to Greece

Jón Gunnarsson Alþingi

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that among the inordinate number of asylum seekers set to be expelled from the country not a single family would be deported to Greece, Mbl.is reports. Immigration affairs were discussed in Parliament today.

The number closer to 200

As reported by Icelandic media earlier this week, the Directorate of Immigration appeared set to deport nearly 300 asylum applicants from Iceland. This inordinate number owed to a halt to deportations during the height of the pandemic as well as applicants delaying their case evaluations by refusing to undergo testing for COVID-19.

Many felt that deporting people who had put down roots in Iceland was cruel, among them lawyer Magnús M. Norðdahl, who explained to Fréttablaðið that herding these people together and deporting them now was “reprehensible and not in the spirit of a community based on goodness and love.”

Magnús added that some of his clients who were set to be deported had been living in Iceland for a long time, had settled down, been promised jobs, made connections in Icelandic society, and even had children.

Waiting period unacceptable

Responding to such criticism in an interview with Mbl.is today, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson agreed that the waiting period for applicants seeking international protection was unacceptably long but that he himself had “endeavoured to make the process more efficient.” He also noted that this protracted waiting period owed to disease-prevention measures during the pandemic and asylum seekers refusing to undergo testing for COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the Minister expressed whole-hearted disagreement with the notion that the government was operating a “harsh” immigration policy. “We probably have one of the most lenient policies among those countries to whom we compare ourselves,” Jón told Mbl.is. “As far as I know, no European countries have ceased sending asylum seekers back to Greece.”

When asked if conditions in Greece were acceptable, Jón replied that it was “not his place to judge,” arguing that it would be illegal to send people there if conditions were unacceptable. Jón pointed out that the number of asylum seekers set to be deported after a lengthy stay in Iceland was actually closer to 200 – and not 300, as the media had reported – and that the government had never planned on deporting families.

Iceland boasts especially “loose legislation” when it comes to families seeking asylum, Jón maintained; those families who have dwelt in the country for more than 10 months have the right to have their cases reevaluated.

“Unity among the government”

Despite Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, having told the media earlier this week that he had “expressed grave concern” at a recent cabinet meeting, Jón Gunnarsson declared that the cabinet was “united” when it came to immigration affairs in a session before Parliamentary today.

When asked about this seeming contradiction, Jón Gunnarsson replied that when he said that the cabinet was “united” he meant that everyone agreed to meet legal requirements and honour international commitments as far as the interests of asylum seekers were concerned. Jón pointed out that during the cabinet’s period in power, hundreds, nearly a thousand, applications for asylum had been rejected.

“There has never been any dispute regarding the protocols, regarding those laws, or those processes, that are in effect,” Jón stated. “We haven’t changed a thing.”

Unpublished Poem by Davíð Stefánsson Discovered

Davíð Stefánsson

A 19-verse poem by celebrated poet Davíð Stefánsson has been discovered. The piece could be among the very first poems that Davíð composed.

Composed before Black Feathers was published

Last weekend, Fréttablaðið reported that a previously unpublished poem by the popular Icelandic poet and novelist Davíð Stefánsson (who is best known for his volumes of poetry) had likely been discovered; the style of the poem and the handwriting offer a strong indication of its origin.

“We believe that Davíð composed the poem during his school years,” Haraldur Þór Egilsson, curator of the Akureyri Museum, told Fréttablaðið. “It was probably written before Svartar fjaðrir (Black Feathers) was published.”

(Svartar Fjaðrir, Black Feathers, was Davíð Stefánsson’s first book of poetry, published in 1919. As noted on the website of the Akureyri Museum, the book was “accorded immediate acclaim and established the young author’s reputation. His poems captured the feelings and longings of the general public in crisp, clear and picturesque writing.”)

Addressed to a childhood friend

The recently discovered poem is entitled A Brief Story and is addressed to Davíð’s childhood friend, Helga Gunnlaugsdóttir of Ytri Reistará, to whom the poet was very close. Having allowed experts to inspect the poem, Haraldur believes that there is no doubt that it was composed by Davíð.

“It smacks of a poem written by a novice, but there’s a wistfulness to it, the experts say, that evokes the spirit of Davíð,” Haraldur noted. The poem was in the possession of Helga’s son, Stefán Lárus Árnason, for many years before Stefán’s daughters, five in all, gifted the poem to the Davíð Stefánsson Museum in Akureyri earlier this month.

If anyone possesses such a poem …

“The poem isn’t perfect, and perhaps he wouldn’t have published it himself without having perfected it,” Haraldur continued in his interview with Fréttablaðið. He then went on to encourage anyone in possession of a similar work to share it with the museum.

“If anyone is sitting on a poem, which they believe may have been written by Davíð, then they can, of course, turn to us; Davíð was known to send poems to friends and acquaintances for comment, so who knows if the original versions of some of his poems, e.g. Black Feathers, remain in possession of some of their relatives.”

 

Viking-Era Cave System Larger, Older Than Previously Thought

Oddi cave archeology

Ongoing excavations of Viking-era, man-made caves near Oddi in South Iceland have revealed an extensive system of interconnected structures that is not only much larger than originally thought, but also much older. Mbl.is reports that excavations, substantiated by tephra layers, show that the caves at Oddi were first dug out in the middle of the 10th century.

“There really are no words to describe it,” archeologist Kristborg Þórsdóttir said of the experience of standing in what is one of the best-preserved man-made structures of the Viking era. Kristborg is leading the current interdisciplinary study on the caves, which has been ongoing since 2020.

“The size of these structures is just so vast, there hasn’t been a study of such large structures, and definitely not from this time period in Iceland.”

An important medieval cultural and political centre

The first intact, man-made cave at Oddi was discovered in 2018, which was a remarkable discovery in and of itself. But further investigation of the site revealed a much larger cave connected to the first. It is this cave that is currently being excavated by Kristborg and her team.

The historic site of a church, farm, and vicarage, Oddi was once one of Iceland’s most important cultural and political seats and home to a powerful clan known as the Oddverjar. The current study has been ongoing for two years, with the primary aim of shedding light on the writing culture that was there during the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Oddverjar were at the height of their powers. Sæmundur fróði (Sæmundur the Learned, 1056-1133) was the most famous member of the clan. He studied in France and wrote one of the earliest histories of the Norwegian kings, although that manuscript was lost. Sæmundur’s grandson, Jón Loftsson, was a powerful chieftain who fostered Snorri Sturluson, the renowned historian, poet, and lawspeaker who is thought to have authored or partially authored major medieval works such as the Prose Edda (known as Snorri’s Edda in Icelandic), the most significant extant source on Norse mythology, as well as the Heimskringla, a saga of the Norwegian kings that was likely based on Sæmundur fróði’s lost manuscript.

Oddi cave archeology
Kristborg Þórsdottir. The excavation site seen from above

A race against time

“We’ve just partially opened up the large, collapsed cave that our little cave is connected to,” explained Kristborg. “We still have deeper to dig; we’re just working on making conditions safe. It’s gotten very deep and the rock isn’t sound. So it’s taken some time.”

Kristborg notes that the excavation is unique in terms of how demanding on-site conditions are. The caves are not only at a significant depth, which is dangerous for the archaeologists involved in digging them out, but also built into sandstone. “The rock is so porous that it just crumbles before our eyes.” It’s thought that the caves were not used for very long because they are so prone to disintegration.

Resources for the archeologists also remain limited. “We only have limited funds and time and you never know what’s going to happen next year. Maybe we can continue, maybe not. And information is always lost from year to year, preservation gets worse.”

A long and complex history, waiting to be uncovered

Kristborg says that the cave currently being excavated may possibly be Nautahellir, Bull Cave, which is mentioned in Jarteinabók Þorláks Biskups (Bishop Þorlákur’s Legends of Saints), which dates back to 1210 – 1250. The manuscript relates how Nautahellir collapsed with 12 bulls in it. One was then rescued from the rubble.

“Although it’s older than that, it’s likely that [the cave] was used for livestock,” explained Kristborg. “Whether it was for that specific bull, we don’t know. But the history of its use obviously goes back further than we’ve managed to trace yet.”

The caves at Oddi have a complex and fascinating story to tell, says Kristborg, but the scope of the current investigation is such that she and her team need to keep their focus narrow. “These are huge structures and an unbelievably large system of caves that we’re only just starting to come to grips with. […] We’d need to undertake a much, much larger study with a much bigger crew in order to get to the bottom of this and trace this history in full, the history of these caves’ use.”

Bishop Reprimands Reverend for Harsh Rebuke of Government

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has formally reprimanded reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson for his criticism of the government on Facebook. Despite the admonishment, the reverend has continued to express strong disapproval of the government’s plan to deport nearly 300 asylum seekers.

“A special place in hell”

On Tuesday, May 24, Reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson of Laugarneskirkja in Reykjavík published a post on Facebook in which he criticised the government’s plans to deport an inordinate number of asylum seekers. Davíð Þór stated that the government had decided to “piss all over” the UN’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child and, in reference to the Left-Green Movement, observed that there was “a special place in hell” for individuals who sold their soul for power and advancement.

The reverend’s words did not sit well with Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir. A press release published on the church’s website on Wednesday noted that the Bishop had formally reprimand Davíð Þór as she considered the reverend’s statements “harsh and in poor taste;” the church’s code of conduct requires that priests be “objective in their rhetoric.”

The press release further noted that the Bishop viewed the matter as being “resolved,” while iterating Agnes’ call for “humaneness and mercy” in matters concerning asylum seekers in Iceland.

“Pharisees, hypocrites”

Despite these admonishments, Reverend Davíð Þór continued his criticism of the government on Wednesday, this time referencing the Book of Matthew:

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! … You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the sentence of hell? Because of this, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and others you will flog in your synagogues and persecute in town after town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth …
Pharisee: these words judge themselves.”

The reverend’s concluding words may be interpreted as a jab at Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chairman of the Left-Green Movement – and the reverend’s former partner; earlier this week, Katrín Jakobsdóttir was asked to respond to reverend Davíð Þór’s criticism and observed that “his statements judge themselves.”

MP expresses disbelief

The fate of the asylum seekers remains to be determined. In an interview with RÚV yesterday, MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir of the Pirate Party expressed disbelief that the government and ministers would follow through with its planned deportation of nearly 300 asylum seekers.

Referring to a recent report by the Red Cross, Arndís Anna observed that what awaited the asylum seekers, in the event that they were deported to Greece, was “hopelessness, lack of rights, destitution, insecurity, deprivation, homelessness, prejudice, and discrimination.”