Asylum Seekers on the Streets Due to New Law Skip to content

Asylum Seekers on the Streets Due to New Law

By Yelena

homelessness in reykjavík
Photo: Golli. A homeless shelter on Lindargata.

Over 10 asylum seekers who have been evicted from state housing are living on the streets, RÚV reports. Some have been sleeping outside without shelter for up to three weeks and have been forced to rummage for food in dumpsters. Iceland’s Parliament passed legislation this spring that strips asylum seekers of all basic services 30 days after their applications have been rejected.

“People seem to be in hollows, for example. They’re in glades. They’re in public parks. Just somewhere where they find shelter during the night. Some are in small tents. Others don’t have a single thing to cover themselves with other than maybe a garbage bag or something else they find on the street,” says Sema Erla Serdar, founder of aid organisation Solaris, who has been combing the streets alongside volunteers in recent days in an attempt to find and assist those asylum seekers who have been evicted from housing.

Legislation criticised by human rights organisations

In March of this year, Iceland’s Parliament passed a highly-criticised immigration bill that strips asylum seekers in the country of access to housing, social support, and healthcare 30 days after their applications for asylum have been rejected. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and received strong pushback from human rights organisations, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International. It was passed following its fourth introduction to Parliament.

While people impacted by the new legislation are denied basic services, they also do not have work permits enabling them to provide for themselves. They are not forcefully deported from Iceland, but they are left in a limbo where they do not have a social security number (kennitala) and cannot legally work in the country. Since the new law took effect at the beginning of July, 53 asylum seekers have been stripped of services and housing. Some have sought out homeless shelters, where services are normally targeted towards unhoused people with addiction and/or mental health struggles.

State and municipalities in deadlock

While the new legislation was still being reviewed in Parliament, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated that asylum seekers whose services and housing were withdrawn would be able to seek services from municipalities. However, now that the bill has been made law and resulted in the eviction of some 30 or more asylum seekers from state housing, municipalities have argued that it is the state’s responsibility to provide services for the group. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has stated that the ultimate responsibility lies with the asylum seekers themselves.

The Minister of Justice and Minister of Social Affairs and Labour are scheduled to meet with municipal representatives tomorrow to discuss the issue.

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