Deported from Iceland Following Rejected Applications

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland

Four Nigerian asylum seekers were deported from Iceland yesterday via Germany to Nigeria. Three of the deported individuals are female victims of human trafficking and have resided in Iceland for several years before their deportation yesterday. RÚV reports.

Appeal deportation on medical grounds

One of the Nigerian women deported yesterday included Blessing Uzoma Newton, who applied for a residence permit in Iceland in 2018 on the basis of human rights law. After their benefits were revoked following changes to Icelandic immigration law, the women had been without housing or financial support for nearly a year. Blessing, along with two other Nigerian women, was arrested on Friday, May 10 and held in the Hólmsheiði detention centre.

When she was taken custody, her doctor provided a medical certificate stating that her deportation could seriously threaten her life, as she suffers from an abdominal tumour. Blessing’s lawyer, Helgi Silva Þorsteinsson, attempted to appeal Blessing’s deportation on medical grounds. The appeal would have only applied to Blessing, and not the other Nigerian women.

deportations at keflavík internatioal airport
RÚV screenshot – protesters at Keflavík International.

The women were deported from Iceland last night via Keflavík International Airport, where the organisation No Borders Iceland protested the deportations.

Accompanied by doctor to Germany

According to information provided by authorities, the three women and one man were deported last night via a chartered flight operated by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

They are reported to have been flown initially to Frankfurt late last night, from where they were then transferred to Nigeria today, May 14. RÚV reports that the group was also accompanied by an Icelandic doctor.

On board the plane were other Nigerian deportees from Germany, Cyprus, and Austria.

 

 

 

Deportation of Palestinian Children Suspended

Two Palestinian children who were set to be deported from Iceland will have their applications for international protection reviewed, RÚV reports. Last week, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board overturned the Directorate of Immigration’s decision to deport the two cousins, Yazan (14) and Sameer (12), who arrived in Iceland last April with their 30-year-old uncle. Their uncle is, however, set to be deported from Iceland.

A difficult wait

Hanna Símónardóttir, Yazan’s foster parent in Iceland, says the decision to review the boys’ applications is a big relief. “But it has only cast a shadow over the fact that their uncle, who accompanied them, and was their only true close relative who is definitely alive, was deported at the same time.” She says waiting for the ruling has been difficult and urges the Icelandic government to stop the deportation of Palestinian applicants and to carry out family reunifications that have already been approved.

Families in Gaza

The boys’ families are in Gaza, and while they wait for a decision on their asylum cases, they are not able to apply for family reunification visas for their family members, Hanna stated. “The boys are incredibly worried about their families,” she stated. “They haven’t heard from them in five days, and every day they don’t hear from them, those worries get bigger. And we all know that the people of Gaza are in concentration camps and every hour can make a difference, to try to help these people get out alive.”

Uncle to be deported in 30 days

The boys’ uncle Ahmed was informed by the Directorate of Immigration yesterday that he would be deported in 30 days and has been stripped of housing and services, including legal support. Hanna calls on the Icelandic authorities to speed up the processing of the boys’ applications, to stop the deportation of Palestinian applicants in Iceland, and to act on family reunification visas that have already been approved for family members in Gaza.

Protest camp outside Parliament

Other Palestinians in Iceland and their supporters have been protesting outside Parliament since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Iceland Deports 180 Venezuelans

Keflavík Airport

The Icelandic authorities deported 180 Venezuelans earlier this week who had come to the country seeking asylum. They received a cold welcome when they landed in Venezuela, according to those interviewed by Heimildin. The fight was carried out by Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration and the European border agency Frontex.

One of the Venezuelans who was deported from Iceland stated that the group was stopped at the airport and their money was taken from them. The group was reportedly received by police and taken to a building where they were required to stay for the next two days. People from the group have been interrogated repeatedly and made to sign numerous documents without legal assistance, according to Heimildin’s sources.

Venezuelans no longer given additional protection

For several years, the Icelandic government provided additional protection to almost all Venezuelans who sought asylum here due to the poor conditions in Venezuela. Earlier this year, the Immigration Appeals Board upheld several negative rulings by the Directorate of Immigration involving Venezuelans.

Venezuelans have strongly protested this, as conditions in Venezuela are still very bad. Few people have access to health care and most ordinary citizens have difficulty meeting their basic needs. The crime rate in Venezuela is one of the highest in the world.

Stricter legislation passed

The number of asylum applications by Venezuelan citizens in this country has grown enormously in recent years – they went from 14 in 2018 to 1,209 in 2022. Between January and September of this year they numbered 1,318. After the Immigration Appeals Board confirmed the negative rulings of the Directorate of Immigration, the number of applications began to decrease.

Human rights organisations have criticised the Icelandic government for increasingly harsh legislation on asylum seekers. Legislation passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring strips asylum seekers of essential services after their applications have received a final rejection, unless they consent to deportation. Iceland’s current Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has proposed establishing detention centres for asylum seekers.

Justice Minister Proposes Detention Centres for Asylum Seekers

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

Asylum seekers in Iceland whose applications have been rejected will be placed in detention centres if Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir’s proposal is approved by Iceland’s Parliament. In an interview on Kastljós, Guðrún stated she would introduce a bill this autumn to set up detention centres for asylum seekers who have been stripped of housing and services due to new legislation that went into effect last month. Humanitarian organisations have harshly criticised the legislation, which has left many asylum seekers living on the streets.

Guðrún is an MP for the Independence Party and took over the post of Minister of Justice from Jón Gunnarsson two months ago. In the Kastljós interview, she stated that her policy on asylum seekers would emphasise adapting Iceland’s reception of asylum seekers to that of other Schengen countries, which she asserted all had detention centres for asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected.

The centres would “have restrictions,” Guðrún stated, and would constitute housing where “people don’t have full freedom of movement.” She stated that no discussions have yet begun on how Iceland would implement such detention centres and that she could not answer when they would become operational, as “it has to go through Parliament.”

Obstructing Media Coverage of Deportation Was “Misunderstanding”

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says that the most likely explanation for Keflavík Airport staff obstructing journalists during a deportation last November was that they “misunderstood” the request made by the Police Commissioner’s Support Department. Isavia employees turned floodlight against a crowd of reporters, preventing them from filming or photographing the deportation of 15 people last November. The deportation sparked criticism and protests in Iceland and was later ruled illegal.

The Minister’s statement was part of an answer to Pirate Party MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson’s question: “By whom and on what grounds and basis, including legal sources, was a decision made to direct floodlights at media personnel that obstructed their work on the night of November 3, 2022 at Keflavík Airport?” The National Police Commissioner and Isavia issued a joint statement following the incident which said that the two parties regretted that police recommendations were not clear enough. The statement also underlined that police control the implementation of such events.

In his response to Andrés Ingi, the Minister of Justice stated that a review of the incidents implementation, there was no indication that police had specifically directed Isavia employees to obstruct the work of the media in any way. “[T]he most likely explanation for the incident is that there was a misunderstanding regarding the request of the support department to be able to operate without disturbance in the restricted area of the airport, in such a way that the request also included instructions that the movement of the media should be restricted.”

The Minister of Justice stated that work procedure has been review to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

Highly-Criticised Immigration Bill Passed in Iceland

Jón Gunnarsson Alþingi

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.”

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.

 

Protests in Front of Parliament in Wake of Deportations

refugee deportations iceland

Protestors last week flocked to Austurvöllur square in front of Iceland’s parliament in response to the recent deportation of Icelandic refugees.

The protests took place Thursday, November 3, and Sunday, November 6 with some thousand people in attendance.

The recent wave of deportations is the largest in recent history in Iceland, with some refugees being deported as their applications for asylum status were still under consideration by the Directorate of Immigration.

Isavia, the company responsible for running Keflavík International Airport, has also come under critique for its involvement in the deportations.

The Journalists’ Association of Iceland has accused Isavia of obstructing the work of journalists covering the deportations, turning floodlights against a crowd of reporters.

Isavia has published a statement regretting their involvement, saying that they were following police instructions, who requested that Isavia staff prevent filming of the deportations.

The above video from Pirate Party MP Gísli Ólafsson shows a glimpse of the crowd present at the Thursday protests.  

Icelandic police forces have also faced criticism for their treatment of the deported individuals, with one video showing a refugee man being forcefully removed from his wheelchair.

According to Icelandic police, they are now considering having vehicles more suitable for wheelchairs.

Further critique has been raised by the confiscation of refugees’ phones.

Icelandic police state that the refugees’ phones were taken from them in order to ensure their safety.

Helgi Valberg Jensson, Chief Legal Office of the National Police, stated to Vísir: “We had individuals in custody, and it was our duty to ensure their safety.  Whether this needs to be revised is something we will consider moving forward.”

Police body cameras were also reported to have been turned off during portions of the raids. Helgi has stated that this for the privacy of individuals who may feel uncomfortable.

Among the critics of the recent deportations are the United Nations Children’s Fund in Iceland, the Icelandic branch of Amnesty International, the Disabled Persons’ Association, the Red Cross in Iceland and the Icelandic Teachers’ Association.

Sjón Withdraws from Literary Festival Due to PM’s Participation

Katrín Jakobs Svandís Svavars Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörns press conference

The Icelandic writer Sjón has announced his withdrawal from this year’s Iceland Noir Festival owing to the participation of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Writing on Twitter yesterday, Sjón cited “the cruel treatment of asylum seekers” by Katrín’s cabinet.

The darkest time of the year

Iceland Noir is a literary festival held in Reykjavík celebrating “darkness in all its forms.” Founded in 2013 by authors Ragnar Jónasson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Iceland Noir began as a celebration of crime fiction but has gradually evolved to welcome writers outside the genre while also including television and film screenings alongside panels.

This year’s festival will be held between November 16 and 19 and will be headlined by Bernardine Evaristo and Richard Osman alongside Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Other notable guests include First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid, English novelist Mark Billingham – and Icelandic writer Sjón.

Yesterday, however, Sjón announced that he was withdrawing from the festival due to the participation of PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir:

Controversial expulsion of asylum seekers

Sjón’s announcement follows on the heels of fifteen asylum seekers being deported from Iceland. Among those deported was a disabled Iraqi, in Iceland with a family of five, whose lawyer has told the media that he is preparing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

The treatment of the man inspired public outcry and a protest was held on Austurvöllur Square, in front of Parliament, at 5.15 PM yesterday. The protest was organised by No Borders Iceland and Solaris (an aid organisation providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in Iceland) and was “well attended” according to Vísir.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke to Vísir in response to the public outcry yesterday, maintaining that it was “only natural for people to become upset” whenever force was applied in cases such as these:

“But what we must look into, in particular – and I think that I speak for everyone – is the treatment of the disabled person, who was among those asylum seekers who were deported. It’s extremely important that we take great pains when it comes to vulnerable groups of people and that we ensure that his rights were fully respected.”

Isavia, Iceland’s national airport and air navigation service provider, apologised for hindering the work of photojournalists during the deportations at Keflavík Airport.

Arrest of Refugee Raises Critique

deportation iceland

Freyja Haraldsdóttir, an advocate for the disabled in the capital area, said that the rights of a disabled refugee were not respected when he was arrested last night, November 2.

A lawyer representing the man is now preparing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, according to Vísir.

Read more: Twelve Deported Under Police Escort Since May

The man, originally from Iraq, is in Iceland with a family of five, all of whom were scheduled to be deported to Greece last night. This is alongside several other deportation-related arrests that have been made in the last week, with several refugees and asylum seekers now in police custody.

He is also wheelchair-bound and has received important medical treatment during his time in Iceland. His entire family was arrested yesterday and taken to a hotel in Hafnafjörður for their deportation, but the man was later removed from the hotel by police officers.

Freyja Haraldsdóttir has stated to Vísir that the man’s rights were violated when he has not provided with an advocate. As a disabled person, Freyja stated, he was in a particularly vulnerable position: “He has the right to have a lawyer to support him, both to inform him about what is going on and what the next steps are, to ensure that he understands everything that is going on, make sure that he can speak his mind, and make sure that appropriate accommodations are made so that he does not suffer harm in his situation.”

The incident has sparked controversy on social media, with a photo depicting police officers forcibly removing the man from his wheelchair in wide circulation.