Contrary to what both Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir have previously stated on the subject, other Nordic countries have in fact assisted non-citizens in leaving Gaza and reuniting with their families. This applied to both people in Gaza who were Nordic citizens as well as Gazans with residence permits for those countries. Whether Iceland will change its current policy in light of this is not yet clear.
About 100 Palestinians in Gaza already have Icelandic residence permits, based on Iceland’s law on family reunification. Those with legal residence in Iceland are amongst those who have the right to also apply for their closest relations to be granted the same.
Palestinians in Iceland have been imploring the Icelandic government since the conflict in Gaza began again to help retrieve their family members from Gaza. RÚV reports that some 24 organisations in Iceland have encouraged the government to do the same.
What the ministers said
Speaking to MBL on December 29th, Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir said that as far as she knew, no Nordic countries were implementing family reunification. She elaborated on this on January 4th, saying her wording had been inexact; that she had been referring to Nordic authorities actively retrieving people from Gaza based on family reunification. The Icelandic government has no obligation to do so, she contended, and Iceland helping people leave Gaza would be to do something no other Nordic country was doing.
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said on RÚV’s roundtable discussion show Kastljósið that other Nordic countries were only helping their own citizens leave Gaza. On the same show, on January 22nd, she said that the Directorate of Immigration was prioritising family reunification applications from Gaza, and whether or not to help people leave Gaza had been examined. She also said that her understanding was that other Nordic countries had only retrieved either their own citizens, or those who had gotten residence permits before October 7th and had lived in their respective Nordic country before, but that she could not confirm this information.
RÚV reached out to the foreign ministries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, to ask what their actual policies were on people with Nordic residence permits in Gaza.
Sweden has assisted 550 people in leaving Gaza, both citizens and residence permit holders alike, according to their foreign ministry. The Foreign Ministry of Norway said that they have assisted 270 people in leaving Gaza, including 38 who were either residence permit holders or were the parents of Norwegian children. Finland does not make a distinction between Finnish citizens and residence permit holders, their foreign ministry said. In addition, close family members will receive help if they are fleeing with a citizen or residence permit holder. Where Denmark is concerned, their foreign ministry said that they have, in exceptional cases, assisted close family members of children with Danish citizenship when fleeing Gaza, if they are accompanied by their Danish children.
A change in policy for Iceland?
Following up on this report, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir was then asked by RÚV if Iceland was going to begin helping residence permit holders for Iceland leave Gaza. She responded as before; that Iceland is not obliged to help people flee Gaza, adding that Iceland has more generous conditions for family reunification than other Nordic countries.
When asked by the reporter, “Why are these applications approved if they are not intended to help people?,” the Justice Minister replied, “This is the procedure that has always been in place […] when people apply for family reunification, they themselves have to come to this country and bear the costs of it.”