Iceland’s Parliament, Alþingi, passed a highly controversial immigration bill last night, bringing a contentious five-year process to a close, RÚV reports. The newly passed legislation strips asylum seekers of their rights, including access to housing and healthcare, 30 days after their applications have been rejected. Human rights organisations in Iceland have strongly opposed the bill, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.
Government voted unanimously in favour
The bill was passed with 38 votes against 15. All MPs in the three-party coalition government voted in favour of the bill, as well as members of the People’s Party and a deputy MP of the Centre Party. MPs in the Social Democratic Party, Pirate Party, and Reform Party voted against the bill. One amendment to the bill concerning unaccompanied children submitted by the Social-Democratic Alliance was approved. Over twenty other amendments proposed by the Pirate Party were rejected.
“This issue confirms the stance I’ve held for a long time, which is that this government is hostile to refugees,” Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir stated. “This is supposed to send a message, it’s supposed to send the message that people need to leave the country, otherwise they will be put on the street, without support and without access to minimum services.” Protesters opposing the bill gathered outside the parliament building yesterday afternoon, including asylum seekers who will lose their housing and access to services now that the bill has been passed.
Icelandic authorities carried out illegal deportation
Icelandic authorities have faced legal backlash for several recent deportations and actions concerning asylum seekers in the country, including withdrawal of services, an action that the bill has now legalised. In 2021, the Directorate of Immigration withdrew housing and food allowances from around 20 men who were set to be deported, an action that the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board later ruled as prohibited.
Last December, the Reykjavík District Court ruled that the deportation of Iraqi refugee Hussein Hussein and his family in November 2022 had no legal basis. Their deportation caused widespread outrage when footage surfaced on social media of authorities forcefully removing Hussein from his wheelchair. The incident also caused controversy as airport authorities attempted to suppress media coverage of the deportations.
Last year, the Icelandic state paid damages to an Albanian asylum seeker who was deported in 2019 in her ninth month of pregnancy, despite having a medical certificate stating that a long flight would be difficult for her.
Criticised by human rights organisations
The first version of the newly passed bill was introduced in Alþingi in 2018 but was not passed at the time. This is at least the fourth version of the bill, which has been criticised by human rights organisations each time it has been introduced.
“This is an attempt by the government to establish a policy that involves significantly constricting refugees, curtailing their human rights, and reducing their possibilities for receiving protection in Iceland,” Activist Sema Erla Serdar of the aid organisation Solaris previously tweeted about the bill. “The bill especially targets children and other people in a particularly vulnerable situation.”