The Minister of Justice has decided to trigger article 44 of the Foreign Nationals Act in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, RÚV reports. The article, activated for the first time in history, concerns the collective protection of foreign nationals in the event of mass exodus.
Solidarity among European ministers
Yesterday, the national ministers of EU member states agreed to provide special protection for Ukrainians in mass flight following the Russian invasion. Icelandic Minister of the Interior Jón Gunnarsson attended the meeting in Brussels and subsequently spoke to a reporter from RÚV.
“EU member states decided to trigger the (temporary protection directive), involving the collective protection of individuals that are party to a mass exodus. There was great solidarity among the European ministers,” Jón Gunnarsson stated.
“I have, therefore, decided to trigger article 44 of the Foreign Nationals Act, which concerns collective protection in a mass flight situation. This will expedite our reception of refugees.”
Circumventing the overburdened asylum system
Although Ukraine is not part of the passport-free Schengen Area, Ukrainian nationals are “entitled to visa-free travel for up to 90 days.” The triggering of the directive aims to offer a long-term solution in the event that the 90-day limit is exhausted.
As noted on the website of the European Commission, temporary protection is an “exceptional measure to provide immediate and temporary protection to displaced persons from non-EU countries and those unable to return to their country of origin.” The measure applies when the standard asylum system is at risk of not being able to cope with the demand stemming from a mass exodus.
An “historic moment”
When asked if this meant that this would remove all uncertainty for Ukrainians fleeing the invasion – as they would receive immediate protection without the delays that often accompany the standard processing of applications – minister Jón Gunnarsson replied in the affirmative:
“Yes, on the basis of this legislation, they’ll receive protection without going through the system. This is the first time that this article is triggered in Iceland. It’s a kind of historic moment. We have opened our borders to these people, and there are a few who have already arrived. This will simplify our work and make the process more efficient.”
The minister’s decision will be introduced before Parliament today.
(The first two paragraphs of article 44 on the Foreign Nationals Act:
“In a case of mass flight the Minister may decide to apply the provisions of this article. The Minister also decides when authorisation to provide collective protection under paras. 2 and 3 shall cease.
A foreign national who is a member of a group which flees a specified region and arrives in Iceland, or is in Iceland when the provisions of the article are applied, may upon application for international protection be granted protection on the basis of a group assessment (collective protection). This entails that the foreign national will be granted a residence permit under art. 74. The permit cannot serve as basis for the issue of a
permanent residence permit.”)