European interior ministers from 32 EU and EFTA states met in Brussels over the weekend, and on Monday came to an agreement on an intra-Europe refugee redistribution plan, which will affect the lives of over 32,000 people who have been displaced due to unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
So far an estimated 153,000 refugees have fled to Europe in 2015—over twice as many as were accounted for at the same time last year.
Of these thousands, 50 will be resettled in Iceland—25 this year, and 25 in 2016. While 50 might not be a very high number, proportionally Iceland will take in as many people as France and Germany, or the equivalent of about 0,015 percent of the total population.
“We said we were prepared to take at least 25 people a year, so this will be a minimum of 50 refugees in the next two years,” Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðardóttir told Vísir.
The demographics Iceland will primarily be taking in are single mothers, LGBTQ people, and people in need of significant medical care.
“We need to do our part. There is great need. This is our contribution to addressing the emergency, but I think we all know that this is not a complete solution, but what ultimately needs to happen is the establishment of peace in these countries, and the rebuilding of infrastructure. In that regard development aid will be critical,” Eygló added.
Preparations for the arrival of the first group have already begun in the Ministry of Welfare in collaboration with the Icelandic Red Cross.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, told reporters that he was disappointed with the outcome of Monday’s meeting. Plans for the resettlement of 40,000 people were initially on the table, but several EU countries, including Hungary and Austria, vehemently opposed the proposal and will not be accepting any refugees.
Notably, Norway agreed to welcome 3,500 people—the equivalent of 0,06 percent of the current Norwegian population.
Not everyone appears to be too happy about the Icelandic government’s decision to participate in the initiative, and some expressed such negative sentiments in the comment system of online newspaper Vísir.
Pirate Party MP Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson’s response to these naysayers received over 1,300 Facebook likes and significant media attention.
“First I must say to you honorable commenters, that I am completely unable to be sympathetic towards those struggling here in Iceland, who are unsympathetic about saving people from war. It is a great privilege to worry about your livelihood in Iceland, compared to what these people are fleeing, yes, even for the poor, the elderly, prisoners, *everyone* in Iceland. I won’t describe what happens in war, but people should think twice before they start feeling sorry for themselves because the government is going to save 50 people from the greatest tragedy known to mankind,” Helgi Hrafn began his comment.
His response did, however, not focus on the humanitarian aspects of aiding those who seek refuge from war, but rather on the fallacy that immigration is bad for the economy.
“Many are under the misconception that immigrants and refugees, in other words population growth, is a burden on society. It’s actually the complete opposite. More people means more labor, not less. Bigger economies are better for everyone, especially for those who cannot participate in the labor market for some reason, such as due to old age or disability. Population growth is good, not bad. When people assume that these refugees are just coming here to live on the system, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The MP then went on to compare economic assistance given to refugees to the costs of raising children.
“You know what costs money for society? Children. It takes 16-20 years for a child to become a citizen who actually gives back to the economy. But no one is grabbing their pitchforks over childbirth, because we know from billions of years of experience with reproduction, that population growth is good, not bad. More people is a good development, not a bad one. The only thing we need to ensure, is the same thing we look out for when it comes to our children, that our new citizens, whether born here or elsewhere, have the best opportunity to find their footing in life. That’s all we should be worried about.”