Volunteer Efforts Prompt Icelandic Government Action on Gaza Visas

Palestine protest February 5 2024

The Icelandic government sent three representatives to Cairo, Egypt last week to meet with local authorities and assess the situation regarding Icelandic visa-holders who remain trapped in neighbouring Gaza. Iceland’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have both said that extracting Palestinians who hold Icelandic visas from Gaza is “complicated.” Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilians working on a volunteer basis in Cairo have already gotten two families out of Gaza across the Rafah border and continue their efforts.

Around 120 Palestinians currently in Gaza, mostly children, hold Icelandic residency permits. The Icelandic government issued these permits on the basis of family reunification but has, until last week, not taken action to help the children, women, and men leave Gaza and travel to Iceland. Around one week ago, three Icelandic civilians decided to take matters into their own hands, and travelled to Cairo, from where they have helped two families out of Gaza across the Rafah border.

Visas already approved

Sending foreign service representatives to Cairo is a “positive and important step,” stated Left-Green Movement MP Bjarni Jónsson, who is also the first vice-chair of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. “We have already approved inviting these people to Iceland,” He added. “Already approved these family reunifications. The next thing is to keep the promise we’ve given these people.”

The volunteers in Cairo have pointed out that the Icelandic state does not have to pay to transport Palestinian refugees from Egypt as the United Nations covers the cost of their trip.

Public criticism mounts

The public in Iceland has been critical of the government’s perceived reluctance to carry out the family reunifications. Criticism mounted when it came to light that other Nordic countries had actively retrieved people from Gaza based on family reunification visas, contrary to what Iceland’s Prime Minister and Justice Minister had stated. Regular protests have been held in Reykjavík calling on the government to rescue the Icelandic visa-holders from Gaza.

Aid organisations wait for government action

Sema Erla Serdar, director of Icelandic refugee aid organisation Solaris, recently joined the Icelandic civilians in Cairo who are working to get Palestinians with Icelandic visas across the border. She told RÚV that she hopes the Icelandic government’s decision to send out representatives means it will act on the family reunifications soon. “But you can’t just talk forever, you have to let your actions speak.”

Hjálmtýr Heiðdal, the director of the Association Iceland-Palestine, agreed that the outcome of the representatives’ trip is yet to be seen. He stated, however, that it was clear the civilian efforts in Cairo had put pressure on the Icelandic government to act on the family reunifications.

“All of the answers we have received so far from the authorities have always been that it would be so complicated and impossible and that they had no obligation to do it. So it is clear that these brave women and their trip to Egypt is what finally makes the Ministry for Foreign Affairs take action,” Hjálmtýr stated.

New Water Pipeline Completed, Hot Water Returning to Reykjanes

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Residents of the Reykjanes peninsula, who have been without hot water since an eruption damaged a pipeline last Thursday, may finally be able to take a hot shower later today, RÚV reports. A new pipeline was completed around 1:00 AM last night and has been successfully transporting water to reserve tanks since around 3:00 AM this morning. Some 30,000 residents on the peninsula have been without hot water and heating since lava flowed across the main hot water pipeline from Svartsengi Power Station.

Using plug-in heaters to heat homes

The vast majority of homes on the Reykjanes peninsula are heated with hot water from Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant. The hot water outage began shortly after noon on Thursday, when the hot water pipeline serving the peninsula was damaged. Residents were urged to lower the temperature in their homes to extend the availability of hot water as long as possible, but by Thursday evening, reserves were depleted. Many rushed to buy electric radiators, gas tanks, and heater fans to keep their homes warm. Several schools in the area were closed as a result of the outage.

Construction completed ahead of schedule

Construction on the new pipeline had begun before the eruption, but when the outage occurred, it was put in full swing. Welders, plumbers, excavation workers, and others worked throughout the weekend to get the new pipeline completed and did so ahead of schedule. Hot water is now filling the tanks, and could reach homes as early as tonight, though it may still take up to a few days. Authorities ask residents to continue limiting their electricity use to 3 KW per home in order to avoid outages, particularly in the evening when strain on the system increases.

Further eruptions expected

The eruption that occurred last Thursday is the third in the area in three months. While it appears to already be over, further eruptions are expected. Geological activity, including land rise at Svartsengi, indicates that magma is once again collecting below the surface of the Reykjanes peninsula.

Read more about the series of eruptions that began on the Reykjanes peninsula in 2021.

Palestinian Family Deported To Greece

Palestine protest Feb 5 2024

A Palestinian family comprised of a married couple and their 23-year-old son was taken into police custody early Saturday morning and deported to Greece yesterday, Vísir reports. RÚV reports that Icelanders protested in front of police headquarters en masse upon receiving news of the arrest, which was reportedly conducted by armed special forces.

The family had applied for international protection in Iceland, but were denied, and as such were told they had to leave the country or be deported to Greece.

Point of entry

Greece is a major point of entry for refugees fleeing Middle Eastern countries. Greek authorities will more often than not require these people to apply for international protection in Greece in order to enter the country, or be turned away. For this reason, asylum seekers who want to enter Europe through Greece will usually opt to apply for protection there, even if they have no intentions of staying in the country. Conditions in Greece for asylum seekers have been repeatedly criticised by international organisations.

Icelandic immigration authorities will typically not examine applications for international protection if the applicants have been granted protection elsewhere, and so those granted protection in Greece are very often deported to that country–even if the applicant only applied in order to enter Europe.

Special forces involved

The arrest itself was, according to an Icelander close to the family, conducted violently. Special forces reportedly burst into the family’s home in the early morning hours, ordered them to remain still, and then handcuffed the son, who was remanded into custody. The mother was allowed to pack a bag of some belongings but the couple were also escorted out by police.

The family remained in police custody until Sunday morning, when they were taken to Keflavík International Airport. Within hours, they were put on a plane to Greece. Meanwhile, the Icelandic Foreign Ministry has sent representatives to Egypt regarding Icelandic residence permit holders currently in Gaza.

Population of Iceland Far Lower Than Previously Tallied

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The population of Iceland is actually 14,000 fewer people than was previously believed, a statement from the government of Iceland has announced, due to how the population was previously calculated.

How the miscount happened

The miscalculation essentially comes down to incentives. Statistics Iceland has up until this point been deriving their population figures from the National Registry. When people move to Iceland, they are highly incentivised to register, in order to receive an Icelandic identity number (kennitala), legal address and bank account.

However, when people move away from Iceland, they have little incentive to de-register from the National Registry. As a result, thousands of people who do not live in Iceland anymore were still being counted as a part of Iceland’s population.

How it was corrected

After this error was detected, Statistics Iceland changed how they calculate the country’s population, and will now be drawing their data from numerous sources.

The good news is this means that Iceland’s economy is actually doing better than previously reported; fewer people naturally means the GDP is in fact higher than believed before. Specifically, Iceland’s GDP is now 11 million ISK per capita, on par with pre-pandemic levels.

Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

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Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.