After an agreement to shelve further discussion of Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill until after Christmas, parliament has once again taken up the bill for discussion.
Discussions of the bill are expected to last for some time, as the bill has previously been the object of much parliamentary debate. This last fall, the bill was presented and discussed for the fifth time in parliament.
The bill aims to shore up what the minister perceives as holes in Iceland’s immigration laws that are open to exploitation. In a statement to Morgunblaðið in October of last year, the minister said: “There are serious concerns within the Schengen area that the refugee system is being abused. In fact, it is more than a concern: we have knowledge of this.” Among other changes, the new legislation would introduce stricter border controls and more restrictions to movement for asylum seekers.
The bill has drawn criticism since its inception, and several organisations have called on the government to withdraw the legislation, including many youth organisations throughout Iceland. Several notable advocacy groups in Iceland, including the Red Cross and Amnesty International, have made critical comments about the proposed legislation. Student groups could be seen outside parliament on Monday, January 23, protesting the bill.
Now, in the revived debate around the bill, the Pirate Party attempted unsuccessfully to dismiss the bill from the parliamentary agenda. In a statement to RÚV, Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir said: “Considering the situation in our society, we find it unjust that the governing majority here in parliament wants to prioritize this issue. There is a state of emergency in the health care system, in addition to a cost of living crisis, which Icelandic households are feeling.”
Much of the debate around the bill revolves around article 8 of the new bill and its suggested changes to the so-called “12-month rule.” Certain loopholes in the bill could, for instance, deny children their right to have their case heard if their parent or guardian violates the conditions of their visa. Critics state that this denies essential rights to children, and fear the bill may be abused in its current form.