Iceland News Review: Catching the Solar Eclipse

total solar eclipse INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we bring you all you need to know about the upcoming total solar eclipse in Iceland, our highest ranking yet on the Rainbow Map, an adorable bird webcam you can watch, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Government Criticised for Deporting Human Trafficking Survivors

Útlendingastofnun directorate of immigration iceland

Stígamót, Iceland’s centre for survivors of sexual violence, has harshly condemned authorities for the deportation of four Nigerians last Monday, three of whom were women who are survivors of human trafficking. The centre is now working to help ensure their safety.

Had lived in Iceland for years

The women in question, Ester, Mary and Blessing, have lived in Iceland for anywhere from four to six years. They are all reportedly survivors of human trafficking, and sought asylum in Iceland. Their applications and their appeals were rejected by immigration authorities and, last year, they were stripped of even the most basic services, such as housing and food. Asylum seekers are forbidden by law from working.

They were arrested on May 10th and detained. Despite a medical examination that confirmed that Blessing has an abdominal tumour, and a certificate from a doctor stating that travel might endanger her life, the deportation was slated to go ahead as scheduled.

“Extremely worried”

“We’re at a new place in Iceland when we’re deporting survivors of human trafficking who’ve been living in Iceland for years,” Drífa Snædal, spokesperson for Stígamót, told Vísir, saying their treatment was “extremely inhumane”, and that they were denied visits from a psychologist or a priest.

“We are extremely worried about their welfare, and the responsibility of the Icelandic government is great for sending them away into uncertainty,” she said. “It is very likely that they will end up in human trafficking again.”

Following closely

Drífa says that in her estimation, deporting these women into uncertain circumstances constitutes a breach of international agreements that Iceland is party to.

“If survivors of human trafficking must be deported, their safety must be ensured at their arrival point,” Drífa said. “I don’t see that this has been done, but we’re actually working on that right now.”

That being said, she is not especially optimistic. The women are stopping Frankfurt but from there being sent to Nigeria.

“It is very important for their safety that someone accompanies them and ensures their safety as much as possible,” she said. “I don’t even know if that’s possible.”

Palestinian Family Deported To Greece

Palestine protest Feb 5 2024

A Palestinian family comprised of a married couple and their 23-year-old son was taken into police custody early Saturday morning and deported to Greece yesterday, Vísir reports. RÚV reports that Icelanders protested in front of police headquarters en masse upon receiving news of the arrest, which was reportedly conducted by armed special forces.

The family had applied for international protection in Iceland, but were denied, and as such were told they had to leave the country or be deported to Greece.

Point of entry

Greece is a major point of entry for refugees fleeing Middle Eastern countries. Greek authorities will more often than not require these people to apply for international protection in Greece in order to enter the country, or be turned away. For this reason, asylum seekers who want to enter Europe through Greece will usually opt to apply for protection there, even if they have no intentions of staying in the country. Conditions in Greece for asylum seekers have been repeatedly criticised by international organisations.

Icelandic immigration authorities will typically not examine applications for international protection if the applicants have been granted protection elsewhere, and so those granted protection in Greece are very often deported to that country–even if the applicant only applied in order to enter Europe.

Special forces involved

The arrest itself was, according to an Icelander close to the family, conducted violently. Special forces reportedly burst into the family’s home in the early morning hours, ordered them to remain still, and then handcuffed the son, who was remanded into custody. The mother was allowed to pack a bag of some belongings but the couple were also escorted out by police.

The family remained in police custody until Sunday morning, when they were taken to Keflavík International Airport. Within hours, they were put on a plane to Greece. Meanwhile, the Icelandic Foreign Ministry has sent representatives to Egypt regarding Icelandic residence permit holders currently in Gaza.

Venezuelan Asylum Seekers Challenge Directorate of Immigration Rulings

deportation iceland

 

Some 2,000 people from Venezuela have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of last year. Last summer, Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration ruled that applicants from Venezuela should be given asylum, but this ruling was overturned last month after the Directorate of Immigration reevaluated conditions in Venezuela and came to the conclusion that they had changed. Five applications from the country that the Directorate has rejected are being appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, which has yet to take a stance regarding this change. RÚV reported on the issue.

Crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Jón Sigurðsson, chairman of the Association of Asylum Seeker Representatives (Félag talsmanna umsækjenda um alþjóðlega vernd) says the association disagrees with the Directorate’s assessment and that conditions in Venezuela have certainly not changed for the better. “People’s situation in relation to the government, how the government treats protesters and political opponents, and the fear towards authorities that people live with, that’s a big part of why people need protection,” Jón stated. He points out that a United Nations report stated that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. “And it’s at the behest of the government.”

Residents of Venezuela face shortages of basic necessities, such as water, electricity, food, and healthcare. “There’s a shortage of all necessities, so people can’t live a decent life.” Some 1,600 residents of Venezuela are currently waiting for a ruling from the Directorate of Immigration. Some have already been denied asylum, and five had appealed the decision. A ruling on the appeal is expected within the next three months. Jón says it is contradictory to deny people asylum based on new data and reports written this year, many months after the people arrived in Iceland.

220 asylum seekers, 45 children, to be deported

Deportation of asylum seekers to Venezuela has not begun, but staff of the Police Commissioner’s Office are scheduled to deport 220 people from Iceland in the near future, including 45 children. Most of those who are awaiting deportation are from Nigeria, Iraq, and Palestine, and the largest group (around 60 people) will be deported to Greece, a practice that has been criticised by human rights organisations in Iceland for years.

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson recently stated the Icelandic government needs to “go further” in encouraging asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected to leave the country. He has proposed legislation that would offer applicants increased financial incentive to leave the country in the case of rejected asylum applications. The Directorate of Immigration operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.

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.

 

Twelve People Deported Under Police Escort Since May

deportation iceland

Twelve people have been deported from Iceland under police escort since the end of May, Fréttablaðið reports. Per information obtained from the National Commissioner of Police, the individuals were escorted to Georgia, Albania, the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy, France, The Netherlands, and Canada.

Only adults were deported, not children, and all were escorted out of the country on an individual basis. Of the 12 people in question, five were taken back to their country of origin on the basis of “illegal stay” in Iceland. Four were detainees. Three were people whose applications for asylum were rejected; these individuals were delivered to countries where they had already received international protection.

In May, it was announced that 300 people said to be in Iceland “illegally” would be deported. This number was eventually decreased to 197 people when it was decided that families with children would not be deported.

Gunnar Hörður Garðarsson said that each of the Directorate of Immigration’s requests for police escorts for deportees are “carefully processed” and that asylum seekers are also “given the option of leaving the country without a police escort.”

Deportations to Greece Resume After Hiatus

deportations to greece protest

Asylum seeker deportations from Iceland have resumed after a two-year hiatus, Fréttablaðið reports. According to attorney Magnús M. Norðdahl, the police is now focusing on asylum seekers that will deported to Greece. It’s a relatively large group, counting more than 20 people, but that number could rise.

Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, few people have been deported over the past two years. Magnús told Fréttablaðið that the deportation of those who have been denied international protection in Iceland resumed at the beginning of last week. Fréttablaðið confirmed with police officials that Greece’s vaccination requirements for travellers had been lifted and that deportations would resume. “My clients have received phone calls in the past few days notifying them of the impending implementation of deportation plans,” Magnús stated.

According to Magnús, some of his clients who are set to be deported have been living in Iceland for a long time and have settled down, been promised jobs, made connections in Icelandic society, and even had children. “Among the people in the group is a woman who is eight months pregnant,” Magnús said. He considers it inhumane to deport people to Greece. “Conditions for refugees are completely unacceptable and many of them live on the streets.” Most egregiously inhumane, according to Magnús are deportations in cases where people have been living in Iceland for a long time and put down roots. “The global pandemic limited the authorities’ ability to deport people, which increased the time they spent here. To gather these people and deport them now is reprehensible and not in the spirit of a community based on goodness and love.”