Palestinians No Longer Priority for Family Reunification

Palestine protest February 5 2024

On Monday, the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration decided that Palestinians will no longer be given priority in the application system for family reunifications. This decision was made in consultation with the Ministry of Justice.

Prioritisation was a "temporary measure"

Since mid-October, the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration has prioritised Palestinian citizens’ applications for family reunification. The decision was made after the Israeli army started attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Applications for family reunification from citizens of other origins were consequently pushed back in the queue.

Now, the Minister for Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, says that the priority of Palestinian applications was always meant to be a temporary measure and that the increase in waiting time for other applicants is no longer justifiable. 

Just last week72 Palestinians arrived in Iceland after representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted Icelandic residence permit holders in Gaza to leave with the approval of Egyptian and Israeli officials. These people were then escorted from the border town of Rafah into Egypt, from where they travelled to Iceland.

Many Palestinian applications still pending

When the decision was made, about 150 applications for family reunification from Palestinian citizens were pending in the Directorate of Immigration, half of which were older than six months. Since October, 160 residence permits based on family reunification have been granted for Palestinian refugees. 

Currently, 20 applications from Palestinian citizens are still being processed, while many more applications from Palestinians do not fall under the right to family reunification. Apart from this, about 320 citizens of other countries are waiting for the processing of their family reunification grants, mainly from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the protection of mass migration of Ukrainians was extended until February 2025. Minister for Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir says that Iceland made the decision to align with other European countries and the neighbouring Nordic countries. 

Who is eligible for a residence permit based on family reunification?

Residence permits based on family reunification can be granted to the closest relatives of a person residing in Iceland, who also has the right to family reunification

According to the Directorate of Immigration, closest relatives are spouses, cohabiting partners, children under the age of 18, and parents aged 67 and over. 

The right to family reunification is reserved for Icelandic citizens, Nordic citizens and foreign citizens with permanent residence permits. Holders of temporary residence permits obtain the right under certain circumstances, for instance, if they are under international protection, students or specialised workers.

Hussein Left Iceland with Family

directorate of immigration iceland

Hussein Hussein, an asylum seeker from Iraq who uses a wheelchair, decided to accompany his family back to Greece, Vísir reports. 

They left voluntarily for Greece on Saturday, December 2.

Hussein’s Stay in Iceland Extended, Family to be Deported Tomorrow

The European Court of Human Rights had previously ruled that his family may be deported from Iceland, but not Hussein.

Hussein has stated previously that he would not be able to live without his family in Iceland, as he relies on them for support and essential care. Upon the European Court of Human Rights ruling, he stated that he faced an impossible choice, as conditions in Greece are unfit for asylum seekers with disabilities.

Gerður Helgadóttir, a friend of the family, stated to Vísir: “He doesn’t speak anything except Arabic, so he needs to have Arabic speaking people around him. His situation here was just too unclear when he considered staying. His family is everything to him. They care for him, and he needs assistance all day long. It’s a horrible situation the family was placed in, and terrible to send his family away from him. I don’t know what kind of treatment this is for disabled people.”

Gerður reportedly spoke with the family since their arrival in Greece. She stated to Vísir that they are currently looking for accomodation there.

Gerður continued: “It sounds terrible […] They are short on money and this is a very bad situation for them. We are talking about people who were working in Iceland and could have easily taken care of themselves. It’s just so cruel, one really just doesn’t have the words.”

Hussein’s Stay in Iceland Extended, Family to be Deported Tomorrow

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland

Following a decision from the European Court of Human Rights, the ban on deporting Iraqi asylum seeker Hussein Hussein has been extended. However, the same ban was not extended to his family, who are scheduled to be deported to Greece tomorrow, November 28. 

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled against the deportation of Hussein, who uses a wheelchair. According to RÚV, his family, which includes his brother, mother, and two sisters, intends to cooperate with authorities and to leave “voluntarily.” RÚV reports that this decision was made following a message from the Directorate of Immigration, instructing the family to leave the country, either willingly or under police escort.

Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Wins Case

This is not the first time Hussein and his family have come into national focus in Iceland. Authorities faced widespread critique last year when he was forcibly removed from his wheelchair during his deportation. He has since fought for his right to remain in Iceland alongside his family, claiming that conditions in Greece for asylum seekers with disabilities are especially dangerous.

Þórhildur Ósk Hagalín, a spokesperson for the Directorate of Immigration, stated that the family’s rejection was in line with procedure. She stated to RÚV: “In this case, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has ruled that these individuals must leave the country. The Directorate of Immigration, as a subordinate authority, cannot alter the decision of the board, and therefore, we have to adhere to that ruling.”

Essential care

Albert Björn Lúðvígsson, Hussein’s lawyer, stated to RÚV that Hussein’s needs were never formally assessed, and his health condition has only been minimally diagnosed. He stated that Hussein requires substantial assistance in daily life and that, until now, his family has been his primary caretaker.

Albert expressed concern that Hussein will remain here for a long time while the European Court of Human Rights addresses his case. A request for a review of the decision has been submitted, but it is unlikely that a conclusion will be reached before the intended departure date of the family, November 28.

Asked whether adequate care has been ensured for Hussein after his family leaves the country, Þórhildur stated that it is the responsibility of the Directorate of Labour to ensure that service. She continued: “There is an exception to this rule where it is allowed to consider the circumstances of the family as a whole. However, these measures are intended for spouses and children under eighteen. So, even though they are individuals bound by family ties, and one of them certainly needs ongoing care, that alone is not sufficient to delay the decision.”

Regarding the role of the Directorate of Labour in providing asylum seekers with services, Þórhildur also stated: “This should be done in line with their service needs. So, as soon as people arrive in the country, an assessment needs to be made regarding the service they require. In other words, when people seek assistance from the authorities, an assessment of their service needs should be conducted.”

Inhumane treatment

The decision to extend Hussein’s deportation ban and not his family’s has occasioned critique.

One critic is Árni Múli Jónasson, the director of the Disability Alliance, who has called the treatment of Hussein “inhumane.”

“It’s so evident that Hussein, a disabled individual, is heavily reliant on various forms of support from his family, ” Árni stated to RÚV.  “Socially, emotionally, physically—to separate the family in this way is tremendously inhumane towards him, and that’s what we are particularly concerned about at the Disability Rights Association. We are of the opinion that if this proceeds as it is, it’s in complete contradiction to what the government states in its policy declaration, that humanity should be the guiding light in these matters. “

Árni continued: “In our view, there’s no doubt that human rights are being violated here. This is not in line with the obligations resting on the Icelandic state according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. So, we implore the authorities not to let this injustice proceed.”

In Focus: Asylum Seeker Evictions

asylum iceland

New legislation on immigration passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring states that asylum seekers whose asylum applications have received a final rejection will be stripped of essential services unless they consent to deportation. As a result, dozens of asylum seekers unable to leave the country for reasons personal or political are being stripped of housing […]

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Debate Whether State or Municipalities Responsible for Rejected Applications

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

A deadlock has arisen in the cases of a group of applicants for international protection under the new immigration laws. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has publicly called for the matter to be clarified, with Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir stating that the law is quite clear: municipalities bear no responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers. RÚV reports.

Normally, individuals who have received a final rejection for protection have 30 days to leave the country. At the end of that period, they lose all services. But recently, a debate has begun centred around who should take responsible for this group of people, whether the municipalities or the state.

A need for clarity

The Minister of Social Affairs has recently stated that the municipalities should handle this group, but the municipalities argue that it’s the responsibility of the state. This debate has caused Prime Minister Katrín to weigh in on the matter, stating “Naturally, it cannot be expected that full services will be provided here when the administrative process in the protection system is completed, and the denial does not occur at just one but two administrative levels.”

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that there is a disagreement about the interpretation of the laws, and it’s important to resolve it. The matter was discussed at a cabinet meeting this morning.

The current debate is part of a long-standing discussion about the treatment and legal rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Iceland. Some in government have also looked to Nordic peers for possible solutions. Some Nordic countries limit services in stages in so-called departure facilities. On such facilities, Katrín stated: “It’s not an idea that I necessarily find appealing, but it’s evident that an explanation is needed about what comes next.”

Asylum seekers “responsible for themselves”

However, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has stated that the matter is quite clear legally. She says that the ultimate responsibility lies with the individuals who have come to this country and applied for protection.

“This group of people has undergone a two-stage administrative process, involving the Immigration Agency and the Immigration Appeals Board. The conditions that have been set as a basis have not been met,” she stated recently. “Their cases have been concluded, and a decision has been reached. The decision is that these individuals have not been granted protection in Iceland. Therefore, they cannot stay, and they should leave the country.

The Ministry of Justice believes furthermore that municipalities are not responsible for this group: “I emphasize that if municipalities wish to have a different approach, they can do so. The laws are clear, however. People must leave the country 30 days after receiving a rejection for protection.”

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Controversial Immigration Bill Back on Parliamentary Agenda

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

After an agreement to shelve further discussion of Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill until after Christmas, parliament has once again taken up the bill for discussion.

Discussions of the bill are expected to last for some time, as the bill has previously been the object of much parliamentary debate. This last fall, the bill was presented and discussed for the fifth time in parliament.

The bill aims to shore up what the minister perceives as holes in Iceland’s immigration laws that are open to exploitation. In a statement to Morgunblaðið in October of last year, the minister said: “There are serious concerns within the Schengen area that the refugee system is being abused. In fact, it is more than a concern: we have knowledge of this.” Among other changes, the new legislation would introduce stricter border controls and more restrictions to movement for asylum seekers.

The bill has drawn criticism since its inception, and several organisations have called on the government to withdraw the legislation, including many youth organisations throughout Iceland. Several notable advocacy groups in Iceland, including the Red Cross and Amnesty International, have made critical comments about the proposed legislation. Student groups could be seen outside parliament on Monday, January 23, protesting the bill.

Now, in the revived debate around the bill, the Pirate Party attempted unsuccessfully to dismiss the bill from the parliamentary agenda. In a statement to RÚV, Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir said: “Considering the situation in our society, we find it unjust that the governing majority here in parliament wants to prioritize this issue. There is a state of emergency in the health care system, in addition to a cost of living crisis, which Icelandic households are feeling.”

Much of the debate around the bill revolves around article 8 of the new bill and its suggested changes to the so-called “12-month rule.” Certain loopholes in the bill could, for instance, deny children their right to have their case heard if their parent or guardian violates the conditions of their visa. Critics state that this denies essential rights to children, and fear the bill may be abused in its current form.

Reykjanesbær to Accept 350 Refugees

refugees iceland

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Market, Kjartan Már Kjartansson, Mayor of Reykjanesbær, and Nichole Leigh Mosty, Director of the Multicultural Center, have signed an agreement to accept 350 refugees in Reykjanesbær.

Together with PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir and representatives from the municipal council, they worked to coordinate a plan for accommodating a number of refugees in the coming year, in line with several other recent agreements in Reykjavík, Árborg, and Akureyri.

See also: Reykjavík Commits to Accepting 1,500 Refugees Next Year 

The agreement was signed Monday, January 9, at Reykjanesbær town hall.

The agreement will apply to people who have received asylum status or residence permits on the grounds of humanitarian reasons. The goal of the agreement is to ensure a standardized reception of refugees across municipalities.

Kjartan Már Kjartansson, mayor of Reykjanesbær,  said in a statement: “There is a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience in these matters in Reykjanesbær, which is important to continue using. Reykjanesbær is ready to share this knowledge with all the municipalities that plan to participate in this important project. In light of the new emphasis and the increased cooperation between the state and municipalities on the coordinated reception of refugees, it was decided to formalize a new agreement between Reykjanesbær and the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Reykjanesbær encourages all municipalities to show social responsibility and take part in welcoming displaced people.”

Reykjanesbær has been working in coordination with national authorities for many years on accepting refugees, in addition to participating in a pilot project for the standardized reception of refugees.

Also discussed was a framework for accepting unaccompanied children, the amount of which has grown in recent years.

 

 

Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Win Case

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The District Court of Reykjavík has decided that the November deportation of Hussein Hussein and his family was illegal. Now, following the decision, Hussein and his family are back in Iceland after they were deported to Greece.

In a statement from Albert Björn Lúðvíksson, a lawyer at Claudia & Partners law firm, the firm representing the refugee family, the “legal basis for the deportation was not justified.” Additionally, he stated that: “the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board judged their case to have been overdue. This remains unproven, and even if true, it is insignificant, as the Icelandic State stills bears responsibility for the procedure and any delays that have occurred.”

Read more: Protests in Wake of Deportations

Hussein Hussein is a refugee from Iraq who uses a wheelchair. His deportation in November of this year caused widespread outrage when footage surfaced on social media of authorities forcefully removing him from his wheelchair. The incident also caused controversy, as airport authorities attempted to suppress media coverage of the deportations.

At the time of the deportation, many expressed concern that Greece lacked facilities and resources for refugees with disabilities.

Although Hussein and his family have won their suit against the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, it is still possible for state representatives to appeal the case to the Court of Appeals. At this time, state representatives have made no comments with regard to this possibility.

Claudia Wilson, the family’s lawyer, has stated that the family arrived in Iceland over the weekend.

In statements to RÚV, the family has thanked everyone who has helped them so far in the case. They state that Hussein’s sisters intend to be back in school as soon as possible.

 

Asylum Applications at a Seven-Year High

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland are the highest they’ve been since November 2016, RÚV reports. The resulting stress on the police, the border, and the immigration processing system is such that the National Commissioner of Police may raise the border response plan’s preparedness level to Alert Phase.

Such were among the findings of a status report that the office of the National Commissioner released this week regarding overload at the Icelandic border and the possible activation of an emergency response plan to better deal with the influx of asylum applications.

According to the report, 182 individuals from 15 different countries applied for asylum in Iceland in February. Most of these applicants are from Venezuela; 20 are from Palestine. There are 96 total asylum cases under consideration, 25 of which include children—some of whom have traveled alone, without any adult family members.

Of the 182 applicants, 132 individuals have a “no hit” status in the EURODAC biometric database. EURODAC facilitates “the application of the Dublin Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for the assessment of an asylum claim presented in the European Union and the Associated Dublin States (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).” Under this system, participating states must take and record the fingerprints of any asylum seeker over the age of 14. So if an asylum seeker is “no hit” in Iceland, it means that Iceland is the first participating country they’ve entered and their application is supposed to be reviewed there.

Due to the high number of applications last month, not all of February’s asylum seekers have been fingerprinted or photographed yet. The report notes that in the final few days of last month, asylum seekers had to stand in line for hours at Bæjarhraun 18, where both the Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL) and a police station are located. ÚTL has requested additional equipment so that they will be able to take fingerprints and photographs at two different stations going forward. The equipment is expected to arrive in the coming days.

ÚTL has also rented out three hotels in the capital area to accommodate asylum seekers who are waiting to have their cases reviewed. It is expected that these will be filled to capacity within the next few days, which means that additional accommodations will be needed. If additional staff people is not provided to assist in the review of asylum cases, it is expected that the wait times on these applications will be long.

Status of Afghans Offered Asylum Iceland Uncertain

Ministry for Foreign Affairs

An estimated 120 Afghans have been offered asylum in Iceland but thus far, officials have only managed to get in contact with 40 of these individuals. RÚV reports that among those Iceland is opening its doors to are Afghans who have worked for NATO and also students who have studied in Iceland as part of GRÓ, the Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme, which operates under the auspices of UNESCO.

“The situation [in Afghanistan] is very difficult, to say the least, both in the country in general and also at the airport [in Kabul],” said Sveinn H. Guðmarsson, information officer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I can’t totally say how many people have managed to get to the airport and through the gate. But we have been in contact with around 40 people.”

Sveinn said that it is not yet possible to say when the first Afghan asylees will arrive in Iceland, but authorities are working against the clock. “…[T]he Taliban have stated very clearly that the foreign force that is keeping the airport running will not get any further extensions beyond the end of this month. So the window is closing.” He said that staff have been working through the night to facilitate the process.

Sveinn added that the main challenge has been getting people to the airport. News outlets such as the BBC have reported that some Afghans who were set to leave the country have “abandoned their plans for now…nervous after the Taliban said they didn’t want Afghanistan’s people to leave.” Thus far, however, Sveinn said that he is not aware of any Afghans who have been invited to come to Iceland deciding not to do so out of fear for their safety.

Sveinn also noted that while the current number of Afghans who are assumed to be coming to Iceland is around 120, this figure, which was arranged in collaboration with NATO, is by no means fixed. There are no specific names or ID numbers attached to that figure, he explained. “That’s just a reference number.”