Municipalities Struggle to Provide Housing, Employment for Refugees

Three municipalities are struggling to provide adequate services, housing, and job opportunities to recently arrived refugees as the number of individuals far exceeds initial agreements. RÚV reports that only three municipalities—Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður, and Reykjanesbær—currently have arrangements with the government to receive and provide for refugees, although it’s hoped that more municipalities will soon participate in resettling schemes.

Reykjanesbær and Hafnarfjörður are particularly struggling to provide for the number of refugees now living in their municipalities. There are currently 243 refugees living in Reykjanesbær, where the original agreement was for 70. Meanwhile, 270 refugees currently live in in Hafnarfjörður, which only expected to receive 100. Reykjavík agreed to receive and provide for 220 refugees but is currently home to 356.

The Directorate of Labour took over service provisions for refugees on July 1. It now provides housing, a weekly allowance, necessary healthcare, and transportation for recently arrived refugees. Gísli Davíð Karlsson, the Directorate’s Manager of the Department of General Services, says the transfer of refugee services went off without any major problems. But even so, once these individuals have had their applications for asylum approved, they may face waits of up to eight weeks to complete the resettlement process with the Directorate of Labour. And Gísli Davíð says the general lack of housing is causing considerable delays and problems.

“The housing situation is difficult, and we’ve really felt it,” said Gísli Davíð. “Yes, we managed to sort out housing this spring when there was an increase, but the housing market has become a lot more difficult in terms of possible housing for these groups of people because not all accommodations are suitable. Now the challenge—for local municipalities, too—is what housing is available? Where can we accommodate people through the winter? I wouldn’t say we’re bursting at the seams yet, but there’s a decent strain on the system.”

The Directorate of Labour has a ‘Support for Refugees’ page on its website (in English), where it provides information both for refugees themselves regarding recruitment grants, job counselling, and education, as well as for local employers who are looking to hire refugees. Those with available work opportunities are encouraged to email the Directorate at flottamenn[at]vmst.is.

Sixteen-Year-Old Admitted to Prestigious San Francisco Ballet School

Sixteen-year-old ballet dancer Logi Guðmundsson has been admitted to the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School in the US this fall. RÚV reports that Logi has been offered a full scholarship to attend the school.

Logi was inspired to start dancing ballet after seeing a production of Billy Elliott at the Reykjavík City Theatre when he was eight years old. He’s dedicated himself to his craft ever since, practicing six days a week, doing intense stretches every night, and focusing, in particular, on agility. “It’s really demanding. You’re always practicing, always [trying to] do better than last time,” he told an interviewer before demonstrating a front split. (He uses a block under his front ankle, he said, to help him be able to stretch even more.) Intense as his practice is, however, Logi always saves Sundays to spend time with friends and enjoy non-dance-related activities.

Screenshot, RÚV

Logi was offered a place at the school after Helgi Tómasson, the artistic director and principal choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, invited him to participate in a course there this summer.

“The San Francisco Ballet School is one of the best in the world,” said Guðmundur Helgason, principal of the Icelandic Ballet Academy. “It’s really hard to get into a school like that. I’m incredibly proud of [Logi] and look forward to see what comes of this.”