Iceland’s Parliament Grants Palestinian Girl Citizenship

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

A 17-year-old girl from Gaza says she’s grateful to the Icelandic Parliament for granting her Icelandic citizenship last week, RÚV reports. Asil Al Masri is currently in hospital in Egypt, recovering from injuries sustained in an Israeli attack that killed several of her family members and injured others. Asil looks forward to reuniting with her brother who lives in Iceland.

One of Alþingi’s last tasks before a holiday recess last week was to grant 20 people Icelandic citizenship by parliamentary decree. Seventeen-year-old Asil was within the group. She lost her mother, sister, and five-year-old nephew in an Israeli army attack on October 17, which also injured several more of her relatives. A short time later, Asil’s father died in hospital. Asil herself was also seriously injured in the attack, leading to her leg being amputated above the knee. After the amputation, she was transferred to a hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

Asil has therefore lost her home and all of her immediate family besides her brother Suleiman who lives in Iceland. It’s thanks to Suleiman’s efforts and supporters in Iceland that Asil is now officially an Icelander.

Wants to thank the Icelandic people

Speaking to RÚV reporters via video call from Cairo, Asil stated her condition was improving and she expected to be “in perfect health” by the time she reached her new home. Asked what her plans were once she reached Iceland, Asil stated “At first I want to meet every Icelander that helped me, that spent time and effort to reach my case to the Icelandic government.” Then she added: “After finishing my treatment, I want to start to study the Icelandic language to continue my studies.”

In the longer term, Asil stated that she wants to “give back to the Icelandic community and enter the labour market so I can help with the renaissance and the development of Iceland.”

She also asked to convey a message to those who helped her gain Icelandic citizenship. “I would like to thank the Icelandic Members of Parliament, the Icelandic people, and all the humanitarian associations and institutions that understood my humanitarian situation.”

Two Members of Pussy Riot to Receive Icelandic Citizenship

Maria Alyokhina and Lucy Shtein, members of the performance and activist group Pussy Riot, are among the 18 individuals that the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee has put forth as candidates to receive Icelandic citizenship, RÚV reports. The list also includes five Russian nationals.

A consensus to grant citizenship

Icelandic citizenship is granted in one of two ways. One, the standard process, whereby citizenship is granted through residence and application. Two, by parliamentary decree. The second route is, generally speaking, only available to individuals in extenuating circumstances, although critics, such as Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, have observed that these special applications constitute “too large a proportion of Icelandic naturalisations.”

This year, the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee has put forth a list of 18 individuals as candidates for Icelandic citizenship via parliamentary decree (these applications are invariably approved). Ninety-four applied, five of whom are from Russia.

Among the list of proposed candidates are Maria Alyokhina and Lucy Shtein, members of the performance art and activist group Pussy Riot. As noted by RÚV, Alyokhina made a narrow escape from Russia in May of last year, with rumours that Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson had aided her on the run (he was said to have received an unnamed European country to issue a travel document.) Iceland Review spoke to Maria Alyokhina last year.

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Lucy Shtein fled Moscow in March of last year after being under house arrest for over a year. “I realised that I could no longer stay in Russia,” Shtein noted in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian. She managed to escape to Lithuania by disguising herself as a courier.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, Chair of the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee, stated that a consensus existed among committee members to grant Icelandic citizenship to the two members of Pussy Riot. That decision can well be seen as a political statement, given that the group strongly protested the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “The Icelandic government has been willing to criticise Russia’s actions,” Bryndís remarked.

Minister Admits “Citing Rumours” Before Parliament Was Wrong

Iceland's Althing

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, the Minister of Justice questioned whether an unnamed MP had accepted “special tokens of gratitude” in exchange for granting citizenship to asylum seekers. In a Facebook post later that day, the Minister of Justice stated that he had been “wrong to cite rumours” before Parliament and that such a thing had not been his wont in the past.

The minister apologises

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson made an oblique reference to a rumour that an MP had voted on citizenship applications for individuals for whom the MP had lobbied.

“Was it possible that someone had come to the table having previously been engaged in promoting the interests of asylum seekers who were being granted citizenship? Have people been awarded any special tokens of gratitude for having granted citizenship? These are, perhaps, questions that call for a review by the committee so as to determine whether any such rumours are substantiated,” Jón said in his speech.

Members of the opposition did not respond kindly to this accusation; Helga Vala, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, was the first to respond to Jón’s statements:

“This is such an abomination, I’m so fed up with this. I’m so fed up with this slander from members of parliament and ministers of the Independence Party, that I just wish that the speaker would intervene whenever they show up armed with lies. I’ve had enough. Try to exercise some control please,” Helga Vala asked of the speaker.

A statement on Facebook

Yesterday evening, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson published a post on Facebook admitting that it had “not been right of him” to refer to a rumour on the floor of Parliament. He stated that it did not occur to him that he was accusing anyone of having accepted bribes and that it was not his intention of accusing MPs of accepting bribes in any way.

Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, Member of Parliament for the Independence Party and Chair of the National Defense and Education Committee, told RÚV that the minister’s words before parliament were not worthy of him. “I think he went a little too far in this regard, and he apologised for that, and I think he’s a better man for it,” Bryndís remarked.

Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, MP for the Pirate Party, disagreed with her colleague’s assessment vis-a-vis that Jón had apologised. “He did not apologise … he’s simply trying to divert the attention of the media and the public from the fact that the Directorate of Immigration had been prevented from handing over documents to the committee.”

Parliament Grants 12 Individuals Icelandic Citizenship

Musician John Grant

Parliamentary parties have agreed to process 25 out of the 70 requests for Icelandic citizenship Parliament has received, Vísir reports. This was one of the last points of argument before Parliament can be closed for summer.

Minority parties the Social Democratic Alliance, the Pirate Party and the Reform Party were not satisfied with the way the government parties wanted to approach citizenship applications this year and were ready to postpone the closing of parliament until they had reached a decision.

The parties reached an agreement this week and agreed to process 25 of the 70 applications Parliament had received. The other 45 will be processed as soon as Parliament opens again in the autumn. The reason for the delay is a change in the Directorate of Immigrations’ procedures regarding the applications ordered by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson.

Parliament needs to consult the Directorate of Immigrations’ application reviews when processing the applications but the Minister requested that the Directorate would not prioritise the applications for Parliament over others. When the delays of the Parliament applications became clear last spring the Directorate was criticised for an attempt to change the citizenship procedures but they revealed the process was changed on the request of the Minister of Justice. Following the debate, the Directorate was charged with turning in the application reviews to the Parliament but now, as Parliament is closing fur summer, only 25 out of 70have been turned in. As part of the agreement to delay processing 45 applications until autumn, the parties will form a committee this summer to figure out how best to handle this in the future. Usually, Parliament grants citizenships twice a year, just before Christmas break and the summer holidays.

Out of the 25 applications processed yesterday, 12 people were granted Icelandic citizenship. Among the lucky dozen is musician John Grant and refugee Uhunoma Osayomore. John has worked in Iceland for a long time while Uhunoma’s case made headlines last year when he was denied asylum by Icelandic authorities. Last year, another well-known musician who has worked in Iceland for a long time was granted citizenship through the same process when Damon Albarn became an Icelandic citizen.


Damon Albarn Live in Reykjavík Tonight – Nice Way to Repay “the Generous Gift” of Citizenship

Musician Damon Albarn will be performing at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall in Reykjavík tonight. In an interview published on RÚV this morning, Albarn observed that the concert – his first in Iceland in 25 years – was a nice way to pay back “the beautiful compliment” of having been granted Icelandic citizenship.

“Better come see me now.”

Blur-frontman and Gorillaz founder Damon Albarn will be performing at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall tonight. The concert marks the last stop on the musician’s The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows tour.

It’s been over two decades since Albarn last performed in Iceland, or since stepping on stage with Blur in 1996. Speaking to radio host Ólafur Páll Gunnarsson on Rás 2 this morning, Albarn stated: “It’s my first gig in 25 years in Iceland. And on this trajectory, it could take another 25 years. I’ll be in my late seventies then – so you better come and see me now.”

The musician subsequently admitted that the concert seemed long overdue, especially considering his new legal status in Iceland. “Considering that I’m an Icelandic national, as well … it’s a chance for me to, sort of, you know, pay back that beautiful compliment and generous gift that I’ve been given.”

Albarn was granted citizenship last year.

Inspired by Albarn’s long-time love for Iceland

At tonight’s concert, Albarn will be performing the album The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows in its entirety. As noted on Harpa’s website, Albarn has found musical inspiration in Iceland’s nature and landscapes since first coming to the country nearly three decades ago.

“This new piece – inspired by Albarn’s long-time love for Iceland – will see the musician perform this very personal piece with an ensemble in what will be his first concert in Iceland in 25 years. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows was written and composed entirely in Iceland. The title is taken from a John Clare poem entitled Love and Memory.”

Directorate of Immigration Broke the Law by Withholding Citizenship Applications

parliament Alþingi

Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL) broke the law when it failed to hand over citizenship applications to Iceland’s Parliament last month, according to a legal opinion received by the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee, RÚV reports. MPs criticised the Minister of Justice for his handling of the issue in Alþingi yesterday. One MP urged the Speaker of Parliament to follow up on the issue and ensure the documents were delivered to Alþingi by the end of the week.

Along with the standard process of applying for citizenship through the Directorate of Immigration, Icelandic law permits Alþingi to grant citizenship by decree, which it normally does twice a year. Unlike the standard process, the Alþingi route is open to applicants who do not meet the conditions for the granting of Icelandic citizenship. Applicants who take this route must submit detailed arguments as to why Alþingi should grant them an exemption from these requirements.

Last December, Parliament could not process the applications submitted, as it never received the necessary application data from ÚTL. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson, who oversees ÚTL, defended the decision, stating that those who apply for citizenship via Alþingi should not get to “jump the line” ahead of others.

MP Helga Vala Helgadóttir of the Social-Democratic Alliance stated that she was pleased that Alþingi’s legal office had taken a clear stance on Alþingi’s side in the issue. She added that this stance raised the question of how the Speaker of Alþingi would follow up on the matter, and asked whether the Parliament would receive the necessary documents before the end of the week.

Helga Vala stated that she had heard ÚTL had rejected one of the applications in the group as the applicant had reached the age of 18 in the period of nearly one year that had passed since the application was submitted, without a ruling from ÚTL. As a result, the basis of the application was no longer valid in the case.

Justice Minister Defends Withholding of Citizenship Applications

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

Receiving Icelandic citizenship through an act of Parliament should be the exception, but it appears to be the rule, Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson argued in committee today. MPs have criticised the Minister and the Directorate of Immigration for refusing to hand over applications for citizenship that Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, was scheduled to process last December. Jón stated that those who apply for citizenship via Alþingi should not get to “jump the line” ahead of others, RÚV reports.

Along with the standard process of applying for citizenship through the Directorate of Immigration, Icelandic law permits Alþingi to grant citizenship by decree, which it normally does twice a year. Unlike the standard process, the Alþingi route is open to applicants who do not meet the conditions for the granting of Icelandic citizenship. Applicants who take this route must submit detailed arguments as to why Alþingi should grant them an exemption from these requirements.

Read More: Citizenship Applications Withheld from Parliament

In an address before the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee this morning, the Minister of Justice stressed that citizenship applications should be treated equally regardless of how they are submitted. He criticised that applications submitted through Alþingi “jump the line” ahead of others, asserting that there is nothing in Icelandic law that requires those applications to be processed first.

Jón stated that the processing time for citizenship applications (submitted through the standard process) had been shortened from 18 months to six, and authorities would work to process dozens of applications in the coming days.

Damon Albarn Interested in Icelandic Citizenship

British musician Damon Albarn is interested in obtaining Icelandic citizenship, RÚV reports. The former Blur and current Gorillaz frontman visited Alþingi on Wednesday, where he met Independence Party MP Páll Magnússon to discuss the process for applying for citizenship, particularly citizenship granted “by legislation,” or parliamentary approval.

Icelandic law gives Alþingi the power to grant citizenship directly in certain circumstances, thus circumventing the necessity of obtaining approval via the Directorate of Immigration. Damon’s visit to parliament was apparently arranged for him by some Icelandic friends so that he could learn more about this process.

Páll told reporters that Damon is now interested in obtaining Icelandic citizenship but said the musician had had a foothold in the country for 25 years, not least because he owns real estate in the Reykjavík suburb of Grafavogur. Damon has been staying in Iceland of late while rehearsals are underway for a musical work he’s recently composed that will be staged in Harpa music hall this summer. The work was apparently inspired by Iceland, particularly the views around Damon’s house.

Twenty-Six Receive Icelandic Citizenship

iceland parliament

Alþingi’s Judicial Affairs and Education Committee has submitted a bill to approve citizenship for 26 individuals, RÚV reports. These individuals were among the 220 people who petitioned for citizenship “by legislation,” or direct parliamentary appeal, during the 2018 fall session of Alþingi.

The new Icelandic citizens hail from all over the world. Four are from Syria, three are from Afghanistan. Two new citizens are from the Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Germany, Poland, and Vietnam each. Lastly, there is one new citizen from each of the following countries: Armenia, Lithuania, Mali, Nigeria, Portugal, The Philippines, Thailand, Ukraine, and the US.

The youngest person to receive Icelandic citizenship this time is a twelve-year-old girl; the oldest is 82. Both of these new Icelanders are originally from Syria.