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Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson
Photo: Golli. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson.

Human Rights Organisations Criticise Immigration Bill

Several human rights organisations, including the Icelandic Red Cross, Unicef Iceland, and the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, have submitted formal letters criticising an immigration bill that was recently introduced in Parliament for the fourth time. Activist Sema Erla Serdar of the humanitarian aid organisation Solaris states the bill is “a manifestation of systemic racism in Iceland” that aims to “grant protection to as few refugees as possible.”

The bill in question was originally drafted in the Ministry of Justice and first introduced in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, in 2018, but was not passed at that time. It 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,” Sema Erla Tweeted. “The bill especially targets children and other people in a particularly vulnerable situation.”

Bill would allow forced physical exams

The bill proposes several changes to Iceland’s current legislation governing asylum seekers, including granting police the authority to force physical examinations of asylum seekers. “This is a major encroachment of people’s privacy that does not conform with the law, Iceland’s constitution, or the Icelandic government’s international commitments,” Sema wrote.

Along with the above-mentioned organisations, several others have submitted comments on the bill, including No Borders Iceland, the Icelandic division of Amnesty International, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, the Teachers’ Association of Iceland, and more. In their criticism of the bill, No Borders Iceland point out that the demographic that would be most impacted by the proposed changes does not have the opportunity to read them, as most asylum seekers do not read Icelandic, the only language in which the draft bill has been published.

Permits withdrawal of basic services following refusal

The bill also proposes that the rights of asylum seekers to basic services in Iceland would expire 30 days after a final refusal of international protection is published in their case. The Red Cross criticised this proposal, in particular, stating that it would put asylum seekers in Iceland at increased risk of abuse, human trafficking, and violence. This in turn would increase the burden on police and municipalities, the Red Cross statement asserts. In 2021, Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration withdrew housing and food allowances from a group of asylum seekers for refusing to undergo COVID-19 testing, a prerequisite for their deportation. The action was later ruled to be illegal.

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