Keeping the Balance

maría guðmundsdóttir

Next year, Parity (est. 2017) is scheduled to release the adventure game Island of Winds. Loosely based on the so-called “witch-craze” in 17th-century Iceland, the game draws upon elements of nature, folklore, and history – with a focus on puzzles and empathy encounters. The game features nine unique areas inspired by Iceland, including glaciers, highlands, […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Heart to Heart

Kristján Kristjánsson

Every now and then, when I turn on the radio and tune into the National Broadcasting Service in the morning, they’re playing something a little different. A 40s country song, a patriotic hymn sung by an Icelandic choir, someone moaning the heart out of a blues song, or even a traditional chant of the old […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Authorities Dispute Over Asylum Seekers in Iceland

asylum seeker deportations

Asylum seekers in Iceland continue to be caught in the middle of a dispute between the Icelandic state and municipalities on who should provide services to those whose applications have been rejected. Yesterday, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Labour Market announced a temporary agreement with the Icelandic Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to the group and legal changes that shift responsibility for rejected asylum seekers to municipalities. Municipal leaders have called the Ministry’s decision “one-sided” and “disappointing.”

In Focus: Asylum Seeker Evictions

New legislation that took effect in July strips asylum seekers in Iceland of housing and services 30 days after their application has received a final rejection. The legislation was harshly criticised by human rights associations in Iceland, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. By August, some 53 asylum seekers had been stripped of services, some ending up on the street. Asylum seekers are not stripped of services if they agree to deportation, but many in this position are unable to travel, for example due to lacking a travel document or being stateless.

State and municipalities in deadlock

While the new legislation was still being reviewed in Parliament, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated that asylum seekers whose services and housing were withdrawn by the state would be able to seek services from municipalities according to the Social Services Act. In such cases, the municipalities can then send a bill to the state for the cost of providing the services.

Since the legislation took effect, however, municipalities in Iceland have argued that the Social Services Act does not apply to asylum seekers and that it is the state’s responsibility to provide services to the newly homeless group. Many detractors have also pointed out that requiring municipalities to provide services would cost taxpayers more than the system previously in place, with the state still footing the bill to a large extent.

Ministry makes changes to rules on reimbursements

In addition to the agreement with the Red Cross, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has also made changes to the rules on reimbursements to municipalities for services provided to asylum seekers. The changes clarify which services are eligible for reimbursement from the state treasury. According to the government notice, municipalities can receive state reimbursement for providing “accommodation and food in accordance with what is generally customary in facilities for the homeless in Iceland.”

Municipalities protest

The Icelandic Association of Local Authorities has issued a statement criticising the Ministry’s actions. “In the opinion of the Association of Local Authorities, this unilateral action by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour is a huge disappointment, as it is taken with the Minister’s full knowledge of the municipalities’ complete opposition to this measure,” the statement reads in part. In its last board meeting, the association reiterated its position that municipalities were neither permitted nor obliged to provide financial assistance to foreign nationals who have been stripped of state services following the rejection of their application for international protection.

Foreign Citizens in Iceland Face More Difficulties Finding Jobs

Reykjavík restaurant workers

Foreign citizens make up nearly 50% of those currently unemployed in Iceland, while they only make up 15-20% of the population, RÚV reports. This overrepresentation shows that foreign citizens in Iceland face additional obstacles when it comes to finding work, says Katrín Ólafsdóttir, assistant professor of economics at Reykjavík University.

Language skills not the only explanation

The overrepresentation of immigrants on the unemployment register is not new. It was also the case throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Gundega Jaunlinina of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), stated it is often more difficult for unemployed foreigners to find work than for Icelanders. “Because people may not be as active in their job search and don’t know exactly where they should look and employers are unfortunately less likely to hire foreign workers,” she stated.

“It seems that Icelanders have priority, to some extent, when it comes to jobs,” Katrín Ólafsdóttir observes. “But why that is, I don’t know. This is something that I think we need to take a closer look at, what is going on there. Possibly it has to do with Icelandic language skills, or something like that. But that can’t be the only reason.”

High participation rates but little support

While foreign citizens are overrepresented on the unemployment register, immigrants in Iceland have very high economic participation rates. The latest OECD Economic Survey of Iceland found that of all OECD countries, immigrants in Iceland had the highest participation rate, at over 85%. The survey emphasises that Iceland should step up its efforts to better integrate migrants and their children, including through more effective language courses, skills recognition, teacher training, and meeting immigrants’ housing needs. Other recent labour market studies have also called on authorities to ensure immigrants’ job security and mental health.

The OECD survey also found that immigration brought large economic benefits to Iceland’s economy, something Katrín underlines as well. She asserts that Iceland would not have experienced as much economic growth in recent years if it had to been for the influx of foreign workers onto the labour market. “We would never have been able to support the increased service to tourists without more helping hands,” she stated.

Unemployment low in general

Unemployment in Iceland is relatively low, with the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate standing at 3.3% in August 2023 according to figures from Statistics Iceland. The unemployment rate decreased by 0.2% between months while the employment rate increased by 0.9% and the activity rate by 0.8%. In total, some 7,600 people were unemployed in August of this year. Iceland’s population is 387,758.

Iceland Symphony Orchestra Strike Narrowly Avoided

Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Eldborg Hall

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the state have settled their wage dispute. Agreements were signed at the state mediator’s office yesterday evening at 7:00 PM, just in time to call off a musicians’ strike that was set to begin today. The dispute was referred to the state mediator last June.

According to a government notice, the state mediator and the negotiation committee have placed great emphasis on the involvement of the Ministry of Culture to resolve the dispute. The Ministry of Culture and Trade has proposed that the Symphony Orchestra receive additional funding in the coming years to cover the costs of salary increases and strengthen workplace culture.

Operations have been challenging for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in recent years, not least due to the coronavirus pandemic. The notice also states that it was clear that a strike would impact the orchestra’s ability to meet its obligations and its possibilities of earning income.

When the Band Began to Play: 70 Years of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra

“The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra pays a key role in Icelandic musical life. It is therefore gratifying that an agreement has been reached,” stated Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. “A strike could have had a significant negative impact on cultural life in the country.”

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 and has been a central figure of Iceland’s musical landscape since. The orchestra has received two Grammy nominations. Read more about the orchestra in Iceland Review Magazine.