Government Considers Buying Out Grindavík Homeowners

The Icelandic government is considering buying out Grindavík homeowners who want to relocate in light of the ongoing volcanic threat to the town. At a press conference this afternoon, government ministers announced long-term measures are in the works to relieve Grindavík residents of the financial burden of owning homes in which they cannot live. The measures are still being finalised but will be put forth in a legislative bill in early February.

Unknown if or when Grindavík residents can return home

Grindavík was evacuated on November 10, 2023 due to strong earthquakes and the threat of volcanic eruption. A short but powerful eruption occurred near the town in December, and a second one in January occurred just outside the town limits, destroying three houses at the town’s northern edge.

Magma continues to collect underground at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and volcanologists say that further eruptions can be expected in the area. Grindavík has sustained considerable damage to infrastructure and homes, and it is unclear when residents will be able to return home.

Government aims to resolve uncertainty

The government measures introduced today are intended to resolve the uncertainty Grindavík residents have been faced with since they were evacuated from their homes last year. The measures aim to enable Grindavík residents to establish secure homes and ensure secure livelihoods while the town remains unsafe to inhabit. The government has also extended its short-term support measures for the displaced Grindavík residents.

At the press conference, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir made it clear that the government was still finalising exactly what form the assistance would take, but that it was considering both buying out Grindavík homeowners so they would have the funds to purchase housing elsewhere, as well as taking on the interest payments on their mortgages to relieve them of that financial burden.

The decision is a big one, Finance Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir underlined. She added that government measures would impact other economic goals such as curbing persistent inflation. She outlined that the government would also explore whether it was possible to delay such a big decision as buying out homeowners through other measures that would relieve financial pressure on Grindavík residents.

 

Bill on Detention Centres for Asylum Seekers Published

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

A draft bill proposed by Iceland’s Justice Minister would permit authorities to hold asylum seekers in detention centres, including families and children. Setting up such detention centres could cost between ISK 420 and 600 million [$3.1 million-4.4 million, €2.8 million-4 million]. Humanitarian organisations have harshly criticised the establishment of such centres in Iceland.

The bill, which comes from Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, was published in the government’s consultation portal last week, where members of the public, organisations, and interested parties can comment on it.

According to the summary on the consultation portal, the bill proposes permitting authorities to keep “foreign citizens who have to or may have to leave the country” in “a closed residence” when they have received a deportation order or “when a case that may lead to such a decision is being processed by the government.” According to the bill, the measure would “only be used as a last resort, when an adequate assessment has been carried out and it is clear that milder measures will not be effective.”

Children detained for up to nine days

The bill would permit authorities to detain children in such centres, if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, but would not permit the detention of unaccompanied children. The detention of children would have to conform to “stricter requirements” than that of adults.

The bill proposes permitting the detention of children in such facilities for up to three days at a time and up to nine days in total. Adults could be detained in the centres for up to eight weeks.

If the bill is approved, the legislation would take effect at the beginning of 2026.

Restricted press access and use of force

While the bill distinguishes detention centres for asylum seekers from prisons, many of the restrictions proposed for such centres resemble that of traditional prisons, including separation between the sexes, restrictions on visits, and room searches. Staff would be permitted to “use force in the performance of their duties if considered necessary,” including physical restraints or “the use of appropriate means of force.”

The bill stipulates that the National Police Commissioner would decide whether to allow detained individuals to give interviews to media and that interviews “would not be permitted if they are contrary to the public interest.”

Tightened legislation on asylum seekers

The detention centre bill is the latest of several measures Iceland’s current government has taken to tighten regulations on asylum seekers. Last year, dozens of asylum seekers who were unable to leave the country for personal or political reasons were stripped of housing and services after new legislation took effect. The legislation strips asylum seekers in the country of access to state housing, social support, and healthcare 30 days after their applications for asylum have been rejected. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and received strong pushback from human rights organisations in Iceland, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. It was revised several times and passed following its fourth introduction to Parliament.

The detractors of the detention centre draft bill assert that it violates the United Nations Convention on Refugees, the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iceland is a party.

All Icelandic Laying Hens Freed From Cages

Following a regulation that was first put in place in 2015 and finally went into effect last summer, all Icelandic laying hens are now free of spending their entire lives in cages.

European regulations on the upkeep of laying hens specifies two forms that are permitted: enriched cages, wherein 750 cm2 of space is provided per hen, or alternative systems where laying hens have a “stocking density” that does not exceed nine hens per square metre. In both cases, all hens must be provided with “a nest, perching space, litter to allow pecking and scratching and unrestricted access to a feed trough and drinking device.”

No more cages

Iceland uses the latter system, as outlined in Article 22 of the existing regulation on poultry, but Article 23 allows for enriched cages.

In a conversation with Iceland Review, Brigitte Brugger, who is a veterinary officer for poultry diseases at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), clarified that no Icelandic farmers use cages anymore; neither the old ones nor the enriched cages allowed for in the regulations. Enriched cages are being phased out in Europe for a variety of reasons, and Icelandic farmers have opted not to use them but to instead utilise the alternative system.

Difference between free range and organic

RÚV reports that there are some 200,000 laying hens in Iceland, and they are now all free from cages. There were several delays over the course of the years to put this regulation into effect, in particular two egg farms that had not yet made the change from cages to the alternative system. After the regulation went into effect about six months ago, all Icelandic laying hens are now freely roaming in poultry houses.

These hens are described as “lausagöngu“, which literally means “roaming freely”, but it bears pointing out that they do so within specialised housing; not outdoors. Brigitte Brugger told Iceland Review that only organic hens roam outdoors, and even then special safeguards are needed to be put in place to protect them from bird flu.

Grindavík, Palestine, and Whaling Questions Loom in Alþingi

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, will convene at 3pm today for the first time since before the holidays. The first item on the docket is Grindavík, but Vísir reports that the cabinet of ministers will also convene today to discuss and subsequently announce how the residents of Grindavík can be best served in the wake of an eruption that did significant infrastructural damage to the town.

Although the topic of Grindavík looms large over Alþingi’s agenda, there are a number of highly debated issues likely to be brought up during today’s scheduled ministers’ question time. Opposition members have criticised Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson after his recent comments on Palestinian asylum seekers and their protests outside of Alþingi. Furthermore, a vote of no confidence is likely to be brought up against Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir for violating the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer.

Coalition solidarity in question

These topics and others have tested the strength of the government coalition in the last few weeks. The coalition is comprised of the Progressive Party, the Left-Green Movement, and the Independence Party, with the latter two clashing on a number of issues. Independence Party MPs have been highly critical of Left-Green Movement Minister Svandís’ handling of the whaling issue and a vote of no confidence from opposition MP and People’s Party leader Inga Sæland will force them to pick sides. Vísir has also reported on a rumour swirling among MPs that the category of whaling will be moved from Svandís’ ministry to the Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, thus taking it from her hands. This would give control of whaling policy to Independence Party member Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

On the other hand, the opposition is likely to test the Left-Greens’ allegiance to the coalition by bringing up Independence Party Leader Bjarni’s comments on asylum seekers and his calls for stricter border controls and increased police powers. Palestinian protesters have been camped outside of Alþingi since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out family reunifications for residents of Gaza whom they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Calls for Grindavík buy-out

The Grindavík topic, however, remains the most urgent one. As reported, two lava fissures opened up near Grindavík, on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, on January 14. Lava flow from these combined fissures caused interruptions in electricity and both cold and hot water, damaged the shortest route to the capital area, and set three houses on fire. Ground swelling and related seismic activity has also done widespread damage in the form of crevasses.

While Grindavík had been evacuated of its residents the day before, they now face an uncertain future regarding what steps the government should now take. Most residents of a recent community meeting want to be bought out, and for others, they would like to see the government take steps to ensure that their housing loans do not spiral out of control with the cost of maintaining property in the town.