“I saw Iceland out of the airplane and it was incredibly beautiful and unlike what we’ve been told. They said it would be cold and snowy but it was nothing like that,” Syrian Mohammad al-Hajji told a RÚV reporter upon arriving to the country. His family is one of five that arrived this morning as part of Iceland’s annual refugee quota.
Nine Syrian families – 44 men, women, and children – arrived in Iceland yesterday and today, after a long trip from Lebanon, where they have been living. The families will be settled in Hvammstangi and Blönduós, North Iceland. While Hvammstangi has a population of around 600 residents, Blönduós boasts around 900.
Furniture assembly at full steam
Meanwhile, in North Iceland, local residents have been excitedly preparing for the families’ arrival. Guðrún Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, project manager via the Red Cross, says the preparation has involved a lot of work from many volunteers, who have been putting together IKEA furniture and stocking cupboards for the families. “There’s also been a great deal of gathering furniture from local townspeople and arranging it.” Margrét says locals are excited about the arrival of their new neighbours. “People stop me in the street and ask when the people are coming and there’s just general excitement. The schoolkids are extremely excited.”
It was not only representatives of the Red Cross and Ministry of Welfare who welcomed the families at Keflavík airport. Syrian sisters Nour and Yasmin al-Saadi, who have been living in Iceland for over two years, came to welcome their compatriots. The sisters are both in school, and say that learning Icelandic has been a key to integrating and educating themselves. “You need to learn the language, you need to speak Icelandic with others in Iceland,” said Nour.