The Directorate of Immigration is set to deport around 300 asylum applicants from Iceland, RÚV reports. Never before has such a large group of people been poised for deportation. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson credits the large number to a halt to deportations during the height of the pandemic, as well as applicants purposefully delaying their case evaluations. Jón says the individuals in question are in Iceland illegally and have long known it was only a matter of time before they would be expelled from the country. Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the applicants says that the Minister’s claims that many potential deportees have purposefully delayed their asylum review is false, and that a court case waiting to be heard this fall could render many of these pending deportations illegal.
Already 119,700 asylum seekers and 50,000 refugees in Greece
The individuals facing deportation are from a number of different countries, and Iceland plans to send most of them back to Greece. The exact number of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece is unknown, as many people remain unregistered and/or undocumented. But per recent figures from the International Rescue Committee, there are currently 119,700 asylum seekers and 50,000 refugees in Greece, just over 19,000 of whom are on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios. Current international agreements prevent the vast majority of those who have arrived in Greece from seeking asylum in other countries in Europe, which means that along with Italy, Greece is being made “to shoulder much of the responsibility for the lives of those who have reached Europe in search of safety” and basic resources are wanting for thousands of people.
Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says the reason that the group of potential deportees is so high essentially boils down to restrictions that were in place during the height of the global COVID pandemic. Countries around the world closed their borders and put strict regulations in place for who could enter. Many of those who are set to be expelled from Iceland refused to take a COVID-19 test, which was (and remains, in many cases) the minimum requirement for entering another country. As such, it was not possible for authorities to enforce deportations until now, when such restrictions have largely been lifted.
“Those who are enforcing this are complying with Icelandic law,” Jón remarked. “These people are here illegally, it’s important to realize that.” In many cases, people who are now set to be deported have been in Iceland for years; when asked if this would have any bearing on their cases, however, Jón was adamant that it would not. “These people are here on their own responsibility,” he said. “The writing has been on the wall about [their pending deportation] for a long time. As soon as the obstacles are removed, that day will come.”
Lawyer Magnús M. Norðdahl believes the deportation of people who have put down roots in Iceland is particularly cruel. “The global pandemic limited the authorities’ ability to deport people, which increased the time they spent here. To gather these people and deport them now is reprehensible and not in the spirit of a community based on goodness and love.” Some of his clients who are set to be deported have been living in Iceland for a long time and have settled down, been promised jobs, made connections in Icelandic society, and even had children. “Among the people in the group is a woman who is eight months pregnant,” Magnús said. He considers it inhumane to deport people to Greece. “Conditions for refugees are completely unacceptable and many of them live on the streets.”
Magnús also contends that most of the planned deportees have not been charged with delaying their case review. It is only a small subset of the people in the group who have been charged with delaying their asylum process. The Reykjavík District Court is hearing this case on September 13. Magnús says that if the ruling of this case is in his clients’ favour—i.e. that the court rules that they did not purposefully delay their asylum cases—that that could change their situation. “It could happen this fall that dozens, if not hundreds of deportations have been carried out that will later be considered illegal.”