Iceland to Tighten Asylum Regulations

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

The Icelandic government aims to reduce the number of applications for international protection and asylum with a new series of measures presented today. The processing time for applications for international protection will be shortened to 90 days on average and “efficient deportation” will be implemented, according to a government press release. A special team will review around 1,400 pending applications from Venezuelan citizens, and most will be rejected, the Minister of Justice stated.

Tightening legislation on asylum seekers

The measures could, in part, be seen as a follow-up to legislation on immigration passed earlier this year, which tightened regulations on asylum seekers and has been criticised by human rights groups. Seven ministries are involved in the implementation of the new measures: the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs and Labour, Universities and Innovation, Health, Infrastructure, Culture and Trade, and Education and Children.

The measures include shortening the processing time of applications for international protection to an average of 90 days at each administrative level. They also include establishing “residences” for applicants for international protection, ostensibly the detention centres that Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced in a draft parliamentary bill last month.

Aim to cut costs, redirect funding

“The authorities intend to reduce expenses and better prioritise the funds that go toward the issue,” the government press release states. “By reducing the number of applications that do not meet the criteria for protection and increasing the efficiency of processing applications, money is saved, which will partly be used to increase contributions to ensure Icelandic language teaching, increased assistance to children in schools, and social education that helps people actively participate in Icelandic society.”

Some of the educational measures outlined in the press release include increased access to affordable and work-related Icelandic language education, increasing the number of Icelandic language teaching specialists, and increased support for children of foreign origin during their first three years in Iceland.

Other measures include better utilisation of human resources among immigrants, including by establishing a system that more efficiently recognises their education from abroad, as well as facilitating residence and work permits for those who are self-employed and come from outside the European Economic Area.

Venezuelan applications processed in six months

A special team will be established to speed up the processing of applications for international protection from Venezuelans. The aim is to process some 1,400 pending applications within six months.

“The vast majority, almost all, of these applications, will receive a rejection,” Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir told RÚV. She asserts that the changes to asylum seeker regulations will bring them closer in line with legislation in other Nordic countries.

Grindavík Residents Can Stay Overnight at Own Risk

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Grindavík residents are permitted to stay overnight in the evacuated town as of today, but do so at their own risk. The Chief of Suðurnes Police has decided to permit the town’s residents as well as those who work in the town to stay and work there without restrictions. There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, and the Suðurnes police notice underlines that Grindavík is not safe for children.

No water, heating, or schools

Grindavík (pop. 3,600) was initially evacuated last November due to seismic activity and the threat of an eruption. Earthquakes and three eruptions since December have opened crevasses throughout the town, and damaged buildings and roads as well as power and water infrastructure.

The notice from Suðurnes police underlines that residents enter and stay in the town at their own risk and are “responsible for their own actions or inaction.” The notice underlines that the town is “not a place for children or children at play. There are no operational schools, and infrastructure is in disrepair.” There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, though authorities are working to restore both.

Police chief does not recommend staying overnight

In order to enter the town, residents, workers, and media professionals will have to apply for a QR code. Those who do enter the town are advised to stick to roads and sidewalks and avoid going into lots or other open areas due to the risk posed by crevasses.

“The police chief does not expect many Grindavík residents to choose to stay in the town overnight. They are allowed to do so, but the police chief does not recommend it,” the notice continues.

The arrangement will be reviewed again on February 29, barring and major changes in the area. Land rise continues at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and further eruptions are expected.

Icelandic Police Bill to Boost Surveillance Powers

police station reykjavík

Icelandic police would be given increased powers of surveillance if a bill proposed by Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir is passed. RÚV reports that Guðrún introduced the bill in Parliament yesterday. Opposition MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir believes the power the bill grants police is too extensive.

The aim of the bill is to strengthen the police’s ability to respond to organised crime and to give it the authority to monitor individuals who have not committed a crime. To have this authority, there must be a suspicion that an individual is connected to criminal organisations and could potentially commit a serious offence.

The bill would grant police the right to carry out such surveillance in public places, but not within private homes. The police would not need a court order to carry out such surveillance, although a special steering group that includes police officials would have to approve the measure.  The Minister of Justice stated that the bill would bring Icelandic legislation closer to legislation in other Nordic countries.

No independent supervision of police

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir criticised the bill for not including any independent supervision of police and the use of this surveillance permission. “What is being done here is that the police are being given authority to monitor ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong and even without any suspicion that the person has done anything wrong,” she stated. The Minister of Justice stated that the bill also includes increased supervision of police through establishing a monitoring group for police work and regular reports on the matter to Parliament.

Read More: Police Powers in Iceland

The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of the Independence Party, has been pushing for increased police powers for some time. In 2022, then Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson introduced a crime bill with similar measures to the bill Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir introduced yesterday. It was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association as well as opposition MPs.

“There are, of course, some conditions in the bill, but it gives the police authority to monitor people’s movements without they themselves being under suspicion of criminal conduct, whether or not they have committed a crime or are preparing to commit a crime,” Sigurður Örn Hilmarsson, the chairman of the Icelandic Bar Association, stated at the time. He suggested that establishing a dedicated organisation such as an intelligence service would be a better way of investigating the most serious crimes, such as terrorism or organised crime.