The Egyptian family whose impending deportation has caused much criticism was not deported this morning. When the police arrived at their residence to escort them to the airport, the family wasn’t there. Their whereabouts are currently unknown, according to the office of the National Police Commissioner. They were supposed to be picked up at their residence in Ásbrú at 5.30 am this morning to fly Icelandair to Amsterdam, Vísir reports. That plane left at 7.30 am. The family’s lawyer Magnús Norðdahl told Vísir this morning that he hadn’t had contact with the family , their phones were off so he couldn’t confirm they’ve left the country, but that he considered it likely considering what he knew of the police’s plans. The Directorate of Immigration, as well as Minister for Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, has been heavily criticised for the time it took to answer the family’s application for asylum, as the family’s four children have adapted to life in Iceland, made friends, and learned the language.
Expired passports caused delay
Þorsteinn Gunnarsson, division manager with the Directorate of Immigration, stated in a Kastljós interview last night that the Egyptian family could have been deported early this year, before the COVID-19. For that to happen, the parents would have had to apply for a passport extension for two of the children, but they weren’t willing to do so. The authorities had to request new passports from the Egyptian authorities, and that process had taken many months. Þorsteinn told the Kastljós interviewer that when it had come to light that two of the children’s passports were about to expire, they had two options. One was that the parents would request the extension of the passports in Egypt, which, according to Þorsteinn, would not have taken long. They took the other option, that Icelandic authorities asked the Egyptian authorities to issue new passports, and that had taken a lot longer. The passports had finally arrived in August. “We can’t force people to work with us,” Þorsteinn said when asked why the parents hadn’t requested the passport extension. He said that after the authorities had issued their verdict, the family had had time to leave of their own volition, but they requested that the judicial effect be delayed. It hadn’t been until the end of January that Icelandic authorities were able to start working on the deportation. According to Þorsteinn, Icelandic authorities wouldn’t contact foreign authorities until a final verdict has been issued, among other things to avoid putting relatives of the applicant for international protection who still live in the country of origin in danger.
The family’s lawyer Magnús Norðdahl criticises Þorsteinn comments. “I consider his statement wrong,” he told RÚV. “He claims it was the family’s fault that they weren’t deported, referring to passports they didn’t want to renew. The truth is that the children’s passports expired on January 28. The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board verdict was issued November 14, after which the family had 30 days to leave of their own volition. They hadn’t done so 30 days later, December 18, but from that day and until January 28, the passports were valid. In that time, the Directorate could well have deported the family, but they didn’t. So I consider that a cheap shot from the division manager of the Directorate to point fingers at the family in this context,” says Magnús.
Magnús is waiting for The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board to make a verdict on two rehearing petitions. He told RÚV he expected the decision to be reversed until the very last minute. “It was at six pm yesterday that I lost faith and felt like all hope was lost in this case. I believed until the very last minute that this wouldn’t come to pass.”
Long waiting periods lead to an inefficient and inhumane process
The family of six is originally from Egypt but has been in Iceland since August 2018. They say it’s dangerous for them to return to Egypt, where they risk persecution because of the father’s participation in politics. In a roundtable discussion, Magnús Norðdahl said that due to the father’s involvement in political activity as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he had had attempts on his life, as well as attempts to kidnap his children. In the Directorate of Immigration’s first verdict, they don’t doubt his story or his credibility. “Nevertheless, the directorate reaches a conclusion, which we disagree with of course, that he is safe in Egypt, claiming that the organisation is large and that it is possible to hide in the mass,” Magnús said.
While Áslaug Arna has stated that the family’s problems were not the fault of the system and that there were no unique flaws in the system she could fix, the case has been held up as an example of the inefficient and inhumane process of the application for protection. In particular, several people have criticised that children are allowed to stay for so long, adapt to the country and learn the language, only to be denied a visa and deported to an unsafe place for their family. While ministers can’t grant visas in unique cases, both Áslaug Arna and her predecessor Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir have stepped in when similar cases have surfaced and changed regulations. They shortened the time frame families with children have to wait for verdicts from 18 months to 16, effectively granting asylum. In this case, the process lasted just over 15 months. If it had lasted less than a month longer, the family would have been granted a visa for humane reasons due to the children adapting to life in this country. While the official process lasted 15 months, the family has been in Iceland for over two years.