Palestinians and their allies who have been stationed at a tent in front of Parliament since December 27th took that tent down yesterday, they said on Facebook. Despite this, they have vowed to continue to protest peacefully in front of Parliament until such time as their demands are met.
As reported, the presence of these tents drew the ire of Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson, who wrote a lengthy Facebook post crticising the protest, while also calling for increased police powers and tighter restrictions on asylum seekers.
This statement drew a large protest of its own last Monday, and the refugee and asylum seeker assistance NGO Solaris criticised the Foreign Minister for “us[ing] his public influence to spread misinformation about community members at their most vulnerable moment.”
Extension not granted
The protesters had a permit to camp where they put their tent, and Reykjavík mayor Einar Þorsteinsson pointed this out as well as their legal right to protest. However, their permit expired yesterday, and although they applied for an extension, this was not granted.
“As our families and friends are being massacred in Gaza, it is clear that the pressure from Icelandic politicians, who have employed extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric, has managed to make Reykjavík city back out of supporting our protest,” the protesters’ statement reads in part. “Although it saddens us that city officials are unable to find the courage to continue to support our fight amid a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, we want to honour our commitment to a peaceful and respectful protest. Thus we are taking down the tent today, as we have been asked to do.”
Seek a meeting with ministers
The protesters’ demands have included the implementation of family re-unification, a government policy wherein those with international protection in Iceland may also have that protection extended to family members. However, many of these family members are currently unable to get out of Gaza without assistance. Despite the policy of family re-unification, Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has contended the government is not obliged to help.
In addition, the protesters have implored the state to stop deporting Palestinian asylum seekers, and have called for a meeting with relevant government ministers.
“Our protest camp has been entirely peaceful and in line with all legal guidelines and permissions,” their statement says. “Police and city officials have described our protest as exemplary and without trouble. During this time the community has grown and we have felt immense support and solidarity in our camp. At the same time, ministers of foreign affairs and justice have both ignored our meeting request, despite having the authority to address our demands if they only wanted. Instead, they have publicly dehumanized us, disparaged the protest and conveyed on television interviews and through social media that our presence is unwelcome in Iceland.”
The protest will continue
The protesters have taken down the tent as asked, but they added that this does not mean the protests are over.
“As we take down this tent, our dedication to protect lives in Palestine stands strong,” they state. “If the city will not allow us to have a tent over our heads while we give everything we have to get our families out of Gaza and prevent further deportations of Palestinians, we will stay here without a tent. Our shared responsibility does not end at this tent; it extends to the ongoing pursuit of justice, peace, human dignity and the protection of vulnerable lives in Palestine. We feel that we have no choice but to continue.”