Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that among the inordinate number of asylum seekers set to be expelled from the country not a single family would be deported to Greece, Mbl.is reports. Immigration affairs were discussed in Parliament today.
The number closer to 200
As reported by Icelandic media earlier this week, the Directorate of Immigration appeared set to deport nearly 300 asylum applicants from Iceland. This inordinate number owed to a halt to deportations during the height of the pandemic as well as applicants delaying their case evaluations by refusing to undergo testing for COVID-19.
Many felt that deporting people who had put down roots in Iceland was cruel, among them lawyer Magnús M. Norðdahl, who explained to Fréttablaðið that herding these people together and deporting them now was “reprehensible and not in the spirit of a community based on goodness and love.”
Magnús added that some of his clients who were set to be deported had been living in Iceland for a long time, had settled down, been promised jobs, made connections in Icelandic society, and even had children.
Waiting period unacceptable
Responding to such criticism in an interview with Mbl.is today, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson agreed that the waiting period for applicants seeking international protection was unacceptably long but that he himself had “endeavoured to make the process more efficient.” He also noted that this protracted waiting period owed to disease-prevention measures during the pandemic and asylum seekers refusing to undergo testing for COVID-19.
Nevertheless, the Minister expressed whole-hearted disagreement with the notion that the government was operating a “harsh” immigration policy. “We probably have one of the most lenient policies among those countries to whom we compare ourselves,” Jón told Mbl.is. “As far as I know, no European countries have ceased sending asylum seekers back to Greece.”
When asked if conditions in Greece were acceptable, Jón replied that it was “not his place to judge,” arguing that it would be illegal to send people there if conditions were unacceptable. Jón pointed out that the number of asylum seekers set to be deported after a lengthy stay in Iceland was actually closer to 200 – and not 300, as the media had reported – and that the government had never planned on deporting families.
Iceland boasts especially “loose legislation” when it comes to families seeking asylum, Jón maintained; those families who have dwelt in the country for more than 10 months have the right to have their cases reevaluated.
“Unity among the government”
Despite Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, having told the media earlier this week that he had “expressed grave concern” at a recent cabinet meeting, Jón Gunnarsson declared that the cabinet was “united” when it came to immigration affairs in a session before Parliamentary today.
When asked about this seeming contradiction, Jón Gunnarsson replied that when he said that the cabinet was “united” he meant that everyone agreed to meet legal requirements and honour international commitments as far as the interests of asylum seekers were concerned. Jón pointed out that during the cabinet’s period in power, hundreds, nearly a thousand, applications for asylum had been rejected.
“There has never been any dispute regarding the protocols, regarding those laws, or those processes, that are in effect,” Jón stated. “We haven’t changed a thing.”