Three Icelandic women who have been in Egypt for around a week are continuing their efforts to assist Icelandic visa holders in Gaza across the Rafah border, and eventually home to Iceland. The women helped one Palestinian woman and her three sons across the border three days ago and are now trying to help another woman in Gaza and her three-year-old daughter reach safety. They call on the Icelandic authorities to rescue the roughly 120 people in Gaza who have already been granted Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification.
“The feeling of seeing the family was indescribable, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, one of the three Icelanders currently in Cairo, told Iceland Review. “Also the feeling of getting the news that they were coming across the border, it was like finally breathing out after not realising you had been holding your breath for a long time.”
Icelandic authorities have not offered assistance
Bergþóra, a writer, is in Cairo along with fellow writer Kristín Eiríksdóttir and media professional María Lilja Þrastardóttir. All three are volunteering their time and say they will continue their efforts until the Icelandic government takes over. Both Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had previously stated that getting Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza was “complicated,” despite other Nordic countries having done so.
“Icelandic authorities have not had any contact with us, they have not offered us any assistance,” Bergþóra stated. “We have been in contact with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour about getting the first family home [to Iceland] and they have been very helpful.” Bergþóra explains that all of the families have been approved to receive UN funding for their cost of travel to Iceland. “The Icelandic state doesn’t have to pay for people returning home from Egypt.”
Impending attack at Rafah border
The situation at the Rafah border is dangerous, with an impending attack announced by Israeli authorities. “Israeli ministers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have stated that the next target is the Rafah border, where there are currently around 1.8 million people in a very small area, so it’s incredibly dangerous. We want the Icelandic authorities to come get these people right away because Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world right now.”
Fundraising efforts underway
Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has argued that more asylum seekers would be a strain on Iceland’s infrastructure. Bergþóra criticises this argument: “We want the Icelandic authorities to take responsibility and not talk about the country’s infrastructure in the context of a few souls from Gaza, the infrastructure that they have been underfunding themselves, systematically, for decades. Now, suddenly, when we’re talking about saving the lives of a few children from Palestine who are in the middle of a genocide, now suddenly they’re worried about our infrastructure.”
Around 120 people in Gaza hold Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Around 75 of them are children, the rest are mostly women, and a handful are fathers with children in Iceland. Bergþóra stated that those who want to support the group’s rescue efforts can contribute to funding efforts organised by Solaris “and by continuing to speak, scream, fight, and call for the children to be rescued.”