All 15 lawyers working for the Icelandic Red Cross were laid off after the Justice Ministry decided not to renew its contract with the organisation ensuring legal assistance to asylum seekers, Vísir reports. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that many changes to services for foreigners in Iceland are in the works. No decision has been made on how such services will be provided after the contract expires on April 30.
The Icelandic Red Cross lawyers currently provide legal assistance and advocacy services for applicants for international protection in Iceland under the provisions of the contract with the Ministry of Justice. The services are intended to ensure that applicants’ cases “receive just and careful treatment,” according to the Red Cross website.
No decision on future services
Guðríður Lára Þrastardóttir, one of the Red Cross’ lawyers and leader of the organisation’s team on the issues of applicants for international protection, confirmed that the Justice Ministry has decided not to extend the contract past April 30. Guðríður stated she did not know the Ministry’s plans for providing such services after that date and stated that any future involvement of the Red Cross would depend on contract stipulations.
While the Minister of Justice stated that no decision has been made on whether the services will be put out to tender, Guðríður Lára stated that the Red Cross was informed a tender would be launched. She stated the Red Cross would participate “if we possibly can.”
Changes afoot in services for foreigners
The Minister of Justice stated that major changes are in the works in services connected to foreigners in Iceland, which is the reason the Ministry decided not to extend the contract. “Part of the projects in this contract are moving to another ministry. [The Red Cross] has both provided social services for asylum seekers, which now goes elsewhere, to the Ministry of Social Affairs, and also the advocacy services, which we are responsible for. So it was decided to reconsider the approach now.”
The Ministry recently reintroduced a bill that proposes amendments to immigration law, which has received criticism from human rights organisations, including the Red Cross. Members of Parliament have also levelled criticism at the Ministry of Justice for its recent decision to withhold citizenship applications from Parliament.