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Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Newly-arrived Syrian refugee families are welcomed by the president at his official home Bessastaðir (2017).

Propose Equal Reception for All Refugees

A new proposal put forward by the Minister of Social Affairs would ensure that asylum seekers who have been granted asylum in Iceland be afforded the same protections as the so-called “quota refugees” who resettle in the country as part of international agreements, RÚV reports. While quota refugees receive housing, financial assistance, and community support services upon arrival to the country, asylum seekers who arrive on their own currently do not qualify for such services, even once they have been granted asylum by the Directorate of Immigration. Municipal authorities and the Icelandic Red Cross have criticised the discrepancy in treatment of the two groups.

The new proposal was the project of a committee that was appointed to review the refugee reception process this fall. Under the terms of the new proposal, local municipalities would shoulder more of the responsibilities related to refugee services and the role of the Multicultural Information Centre would also be enhanced.

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Social Affairs and Equality, presented the proposal along with project manager and committee member Linda Rós Alfreðsdóttir. “The biggest changes are that individuals who receive [asylum status] through the Directorate of Immigration and have, up until now, been on their own, will go into the same system that the quota refugees do, in which they have support in learning Icelandic, getting themselves settled, and adapting to society,” says Ásmundur.

Currently, the government advertises when quota refugees arrive, requesting for volunteer municipalities to receive and resettle the newcomers. But no such effort is made for refugees who arrive on their own. Under the terms of the new agreement, this would change. The Multicultural Information Centre, which is located in Ísafjörður, would be in charge of pairing municipalities with newly-arrived asylum grantees, and would also provide advice to municipalities on refugee- and resettlement-related issues. It would still be up to the asylum seekers whether or not to accept an invitation from a municipality to resettle there. Additionally, the Directorate of Labor would ensure Icelandic lessons and social education to newly arrived asylum grantees.

Ásmundur is pleased with the committee’s proposals and is looking forward to seeing them become a reality. “This is a fundamental change that’s been in the works for a considerable amount of time,” he said. “It’s really gratifying to see it getting started now.”

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