According to Tatjana Latinovic, chair of the Association of Women of Foreign Descent, Icelanders almost exclusively perceive immigrants as laborers, workers who contribute to the economy. Tatjana Latinovic said it is dangerous to have such a simplistic view, immigrants are people not machines.
Tatjana told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, RÚV, that Icelanders have a predisposition to talk about immigrants as foreign labor and nothing else. She said that this view has changed somewhat since the immigrants started to make themselves heard. According to RÚV, Tatjana is optimistic, she says that there are still relatively few immigrants in Iceland and the immigrants are new; she believes that there is still time to build a deliberate policy in immigrant affairs so that the problems France is experiencing will not come up in Iceland.
Marie-Lou Svenski, a PR representative for SOS-Racism in France, an organization that fights racism, told RÚV that most of the instigators of the riots in France are third generation immigrants, and they are rebelling against how they and how their ancestors have been treated. Many of them trace their roots to the old French colonies; they were transported to France to build up the country after the war. Tatjana said that most likely these people were seen as being used solely for work which is not much different from the views in Iceland.
On news program Spotlight last night, Amal Tamimi, director of education at the Intercultural Center, also emphasized the fact that Iceland still has first generation foreigners. When asked if Iceland could in the future expect the same problems France is experiencing she said, “no, not if we continue doing what we are doing, offering Icelandic language courses in the work place, and giving the foreigners hope hat they will receive the same opportunities as Icelanders. [If we do that] we will never experience this kind of problem.”
Amal told Spotlight that the adjustment needs to be from both sides, “it’s not just that we need to learn Icelandic, Icelandic language courses need to be offered. Icelanders should say welcome, talk to us and help us.”
When asked if immigrants do not already do that, Amal said, “yes, most people, let’s say that, but the government should put more emphasis on language courses and offer courses for free. Because that is the main issue – Language.”
For more information on immigrant issues in Iceland see Foreigners Need Not Apply by Iceland Review staff writer Ed Weinman.