The Justice Ministry and Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL)’s new legal assistance scheme for applicants for international protection will lead to higher costs, longer processing times, and inferior service, a lawyer at the Icelandic Red Cross has stated. Last month, the Justice Ministry decided not to renew its contract with the Red Cross, which had provided legal assistance to asylum seekers for nearly seven years. According to Red Cross lawyer Guðríður Lára Þrastardóttir, the new scheme laid out by ÚTL is worse for asylum seekers, the government, and the lawyers providing the service. Vísir reported first.
The Directorate of Immigration published an advertisement last week calling on applications from those who would provide legal assistance to applicants for international protection. In a post on Facebook, Guðríður stated that the scheme outlined in the advertisement is “really the same as scheme that was in place before the Icelandic Red Cross took over and was considered not good at all.” She adds that the hourly rate proposed for lawyers has only been raised by ISK 1,000 [$7.48; €6.88] since 2014, and is “still the lowest rate the state pays for lawyers’ services.”
According to Guðríður, the proposed maximum hours in the scheme “do not in any way reflect the reality, and the Red Cross, which has done this work for nearly 7 years was not contacted when this aforementioned maximum time was calculated.” The scheme also does not appear to take into account the cost of interpreting services, Guðríður stated.
“This is a sad turning point,” Guðríður wrote. “In my opinion, this scheme will lead to worse quality, much higher costs, worse service, and longer case processing times. Everyone loses here.”
The changes are implemented as asylum seeker applications reach a seven-year high in Iceland. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that more changes to Immigration Law are in the works. The Red Cross and other human rights organisations have criticised a proposed amendment to the Immigration Act from the Minister.