Incident Involving Refugee and Son Ejected from Bus Sparks Outrage

public bus Reykjavík

An account of a refugee and his son being prevented from boarding a Strætó bus from Reykjavík to Keflavík on Friday evening has invoked a public outcry and garnered a great deal of attention, both on social media and from community leaders, Vísir reports. Nichole Leigh Mosty, director of the Multicultural Information Centre, says the story isn’t surprising, and that cultural sensitivity training is important for people in service jobs who deal with diverse populations.

Refused to let another passenger pay fare

According to a public Facebook post published by Joana Diminiczak, a man and his young son boarded a Strætó 55 bus at the University of Iceland stop at 6:31 PM on Friday. The man attempted to use the payment card provided for him by the municipality of Reykjanesbær, but the card didn’t work. The driver told him he had to pay his fare out of pocket and began to berate him in front of the other passengers. The man called someone and handed the phone to the driver, who said that “‘these refugees’ never want to pay,” wrote Joana in her post, “they bring useless cards and he’s not a charity, he does his job, and wants to finally go home and have his dinner.” Joana continued, saying that the driver then turned to the man and said in English, “I live in Njarðvík [one of the towns that comprises Reykjanesbær]. I’ll find you.”

At this point, Joana said she attempted to intercede and pay the fare for the man and child, but the bus driver refused, saying he had called the police. “I ask him to call the police [back] and say the matter is resolved because I will pay for them, but he didn’t want to do it. When I say that I can call so he doesn’t have to, he still doesn’t want to let me pay!!! The man gives up, takes his son, and they get out. He looks up at the sky, near tears, but still with hope in his eyes of sparing the boy the humiliation, and says, ‘He watches us.’ We pull out and the bus driver proudly calls the police and says that he is no longer in need of assistance.”

Joana then concluded her post, writing, “Such drivers shouldn’t be driving buses. I hope that Strætó takes this matter seriously.” At time of writing, the post had received 202 largely sympathetic and outraged comments, many of which called on Strætó to address the situation. It had been also been shared around 1,400 times.

‘They need training in how to deal with this diverse group of customers’

When contacted for comment, Nichole Leigh Mosty, director of the Multicultural Information Centre, said the story did not surprise her. “I wasn’t surprised, because I know there have been difficulties implementing the Klappið app [Strætó’s payment app]. It isn’t designed for diverse members of society, for foreigners or senior citizens. And we’ve seen this behaviour from employees over and over. It’s a stressful job, but the fact that they are serving a diverse community means that they need training in how to deal with this diverse group of customers. But don’t make such prejudicial statements and [provide] poor service.”

Nichole says that cultural sensitivity training is vital. “Whenever we have people in a service position, cultural sensitivity is needed considering that there are all sorts of people who use public transportation. And those who are serving them need to be able to treat everyone who uses that service with respect.”

‘It’s very clear that we’ll be looking into what went on there’

Strætó’s director Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson told reporters that he wasn’t familiar with the situation himself, but that the case has been referred to the Icelandic Road Administration, which services bus lines that run outside of the capital area. However, at time of writing, Bergþóra Kristinsdóttir, manager of the Road Administration’s service department, said that she was not familiar with the situation either.

“It’s not a nice story. It’s not come across our desk, I’ve not received any other information about this incident. But it’s very clear that we’ll be looking into what went on there,” said Bergþóra.

‘It’s the worst country I’ve ever been to’: Polish Football Player Leaves Iceland, Cites Xenophobia, Discrimination

Polish football player Chris Jastrzembski, formerly of UMF Selfoss in South Iceland, joined the team prior to the start of the current season and made 13 league and cup appearances before transferring to Prey Veng in Cambodia last month. Vísir reports that Jastrzembski endured repeated xenophobic comments and discrimination on the basis of his nationality while living and working in Iceland.

The 25-year-old defender opened up about his experience in Iceland in an interview with the Polish paper Gazeta on Thursday.

“It’s the worst country I’ve ever been to,” he said. “I will never go back. Many Poles live there and they’re fine, but my experience of Icelanders is terrible. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. People are sorted into categories there.”

“The club treated me worse because I have a Polish passport. From day one, those people had no respect for me.”

In the interview, Jastrzembski recalled an incident in which he was putting up scaffolding at the stadium in Selfoss. He was doing so from a ladder that an Icelandic woman was holding for him.

“Then the boss came and told her to stop helping me because the wind wasn’t that strong, and I’d be fine. The woman left and I fell,” Jastrzembski said, adding that the woman had felt bad about the accident and he’d told her not to worry. The supervisor then began speaking to her in Icelandic and she translated what he said for Jastrzembski. According to the woman, what the Icelandic man said was: “To hell with him. He’s just a Pole. If he dies, there are plenty of Poles who can take his place.”

‘Requested to be released from his contract for personal reasons’

In a Facebook post about Jastrzembski’s departure from the team in July, the team wrote:

“Defender Chris Jastrzembski has played his last game for Selfoss. The player requested to be released from his contract with the club for personal reasons and the club has granted that request. Chris joined the team in the winter and played 13 games this summer and scored one goal. We thank Chris for his time here in Selfoss and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Prior to playing for UMF Selfoss, Jastrzembski played in the Faroe Islands, Germany, and for Poland’s national youth football team.

Fifty-Six Percent of Polish Immigrants Have Experienced Hate Speech

Reykjavik from above

The majority of Polish immigrants in Iceland have experienced hate speech in their time living in the country, Kjarninn reports. This was among the findings of a report shared during a conference held by the City of Reykjavík’s Human Rights and Democracy Office on Friday.

Topics addressed at the conference included how best to deal with hate speech, how to ensure that immigrants are included in Icelandic society, and how to support multiculturalism in Iceland.

Poles comprise the largest group of immigrants living in Iceland. According to Statistics Iceland, 20,520 Polish people were living in Iceland as of the beginning of 2021, accounting for 35.9% of all immigrants in the country.

See Also: Calls on Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir, doctor of anthropology and assistant professor in police science, was among the speakers at Friday’s conference. She explained that not much data has yet been gathered on hate crimes in Iceland, but in the course of her research, she has conducted interviews with victims as well as an extensive survey amongst Polish immigrants in Iceland last year.

Almost 1,000 Polish immigrants responded to Eyrún’s online survey. Roughly 2% had experienced physical violence as a result of their origins, while 56% of respondents had experienced hate speech. A large proportion of those who had experienced hate speech had done so on multiple occasions.

See Also: Prejudice Just Below the Surface in Iceland, Says Prime Minister

Eyrún said that freedom of speech was often cited as a justification for hate speech. She also noted that destruction of property was common and that perpetrators often knew their victims, and were connected via shared neighbourhoods or workplaces.

María Rún Bjarnadóttir, Director Internet Safety at National Commissioner of Police, shared data that indicated that Iceland lags behind neighbouring Nordic countries in this area. To wit, people in Iceland have experienced more hateful remarks, harassment, and/or threats than in people in Norway in the past twelve months. People in Iceland have also had more difficulty responding to hate speech and have done much less to respond to hateful comments or harassment online.

Four young women aged 16 – 19 who go by Antirasistarnir, The Antiracists, and hold a forum for people of color on Instagram also spoke at Friday’s conference. Anna Sonde, Kristín Reynisdóttir, Valgerður Kehinde Reynisdóttir, and Johanna Haile recently received an entrepreneurial award for their efforts to educate people about racism and discrimination in Iceland. Along with describing the experiences of people of colour growing up in Iceland and the lack of diversity education in the country, the women highlighted the importance of acknowledging that racism is a problem in the first place. Solutions must be found not only for existing problems, said the Antiracists, but also methods of preventing these problems in the first place.

One Third of Parliamentarians Report Being Victims of Bullying

Over one third of MPs who responded to a recent survey said they had been subject to bullying during their time in parliament. The survey on bullying and sexual and gender-based harassment of MPs and parliamentary staff was conducted last January and February by the University of Iceland’s Social Science Research Institute. Speaker of Alþingi Steingrímur J. Sigfússon called the results of the survey “shocking” and stated they should be taken seriously.

Bullying in Parliament

When asked whether they had been bullied at some point during their time in parliament, 80% of respondents who answered the question stated they had not. Bullying was more common among MPs than parliamentary staff: 35.7% of MPs stated they had been bullied at work or in connection to their job. The proportion was 15% among parliamentary staff and 6.3% among party staff. There was no measurable difference in proportion between genders. More than one third of those who had been subject to bullying stated they had experienced it within in the past six months.

Most Sexual Harassment Goes Unreported

Around 16% of respondents stated they had experienced sexual harassment in connection with their job, 12.5% of those within the last six months. The vast majority (87.5%) said they had been harassed by a man while 12.5% of harassers were reported to be women. Only 12.5% of those who had been sexually harassed said they had reported the incident.

In total 18.4% of respondents stated they had experienced gender-based harassment at some point during their time at parliament. As with bullying, a larger proportion of MPs had experienced gender-based harassment (31.8%) than parliamentary or party staff. Women were more likely to have experienced gender-based harassment than men (25% to 10.4%) and 74% of perpetrators were reported to be men.

Alþingi’s Speakers’ Committee decided to form an Equality Committee last January that will now discuss how to follow up on the survey’s findings.