In Focus: Asylum Seeker Evictions

asylum iceland

New legislation on immigration passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring states that asylum seekers whose asylum applications have received a final rejection will be stripped of essential services unless they consent to deportation. As a result, dozens of asylum seekers unable to leave the country for reasons personal or political are being stripped of housing […]

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Elísabet Street Coming to West Reykjavík

Golli. Elísabet Jökulsdóttir

A new street under construction in Vesturbær, the westernmost neighbourhood of Reykjavík, will be named after writer Elísabet Jökulsdóttir, reports. The idea came from Elísabet herself, who lived in the area for 30 years and collected signatures in support of the initiative. Einar Þorsteinsson, chairman of Reykjavík City Council, confirmed the decision to Elísabet yesterday.

“I’m in seventh heaven and I’m just so grateful,” the writer told reporters just after returning from City Hall yesterday, where she had handed over a list of 1,100 signatures to Einar in support of the initiative. She compared Einar’s response to magic. “It was like he did a magic trick. He just snapped his fingers and said that it would be done, just one, two, three.”

Enough streets named after dead men

The street in question is being built between Sólvallagata and Hringbraut as part of an ongoing construction project involving a new building. It was originally to be named Hoffmann’s Street after Pétur Hoffmann Salómonsson, a fisherman and writer. But when Elísabet heard about the naming plans for the street, which is located by her former home of many years, she did not approve. She stated that there were enough streets named after dead men.

“I’m very grateful and touched and this is a great moment that the street can be named after a woman. It gives us women wind beneath our wings. And who knows what the city will look like in a few years. Maybe Hringbraut will be named after [female author] Þórunn Valdimarsdóttir and more in that vein. I’m paving the way,” Elísabet said happily.

Read Iceland Review’s recent interview with Elísabet Jökulsdóttir.

Airbnbs in Iceland Used for Sex Work

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses

Airbnb operators in Iceland have on occasion requested police assistance due to suspicion that their properties are being used for sex work, RÚV reports. Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson says such cases are regularly brought to police but there is little they can do about them.

Thousands of properties across Iceland are available for short-term rental through the Airbnb website. It is common for sex work to be conducted in short-term rental apartments. Inflation and rising mortgage rates are leading more and more people to rent their homes through Airbnb. While some of the properties are exclusively rental properties, others are people’s homes that they rent out temporarily while they are away.

High demand for sex work

“People often inform us that they suspect that prostitution is being sold in an apartment they rent out. It seems to me that there is an incredibly high supply of this on these sites that we monitor, and that must mean that there is also a demand,” stated Grímur. He added that clients are mainly Icelanders but that the increase in the number of tourists has led to an increase in demand.

An Icelandic Airbnb host who spoke to RÚV on condition of anonymity reported finding pictures taken in their rental property on a website used by sex workers to advertise services. Airbnb’s terms and conditions state that commercial sex work is not permitted on premises rented through the site. However, how such activities can be prevented or responded to is rather unclear. Hosts are not permitted to kick out guests unless they have broken rules that are explicitly stated in the advertisement for the property, and few such advertisements state that sex work is not permitted. Airbnb advises hosts to contact the police in such cases.

Difficult for police to intervene

“We cannot intervene when it comes to making people leave the apartments,” Grímur says, adding that the issue is complicated. “Because [in Iceland] it is not forbidden to sell prostitution but it is forbidden to buy it. What we have done when we have gone into these cases where we are looking into whether prostitution is being bought [is] we are trying to interfere with those who are buying the prostitution, not the sellers.”

Grímur encouraged Airbnb hosts to avoid approving guests without several previous reviews on Airbnb as a method of preventing their properties being used for commercial activities.