One in Four Preschool Children Has Foreign Background

school children

Of the nearly 20,000 children attending preschools in Iceland, 26% have a foreign background. This includes children who were born outside of Iceland but also children born in Iceland who have one or two parents that were born abroad. The data, released by Statistics Iceland today, also shows vastly different rates of preschool attendance between regions.

In December 2022, the number of children attending preschools in Iceland had increased by 3.3.% (635 children) from the previous year. A total of 11% were born in Iceland but had one parent born abroad, 9% were born in Iceland and had both parents born abroad, while over 3% were immigrants and over 3% had a foreign background by some other definition. A total of 73.4% of preschool students had no foreign background.

children-in-pre-primary-schools-by-background-2022-Iceland

Record percentages with foreign mother tongue and foreign citizenship

The data shows that 16.8% of all preschool children had a foreign mother tongue, more than ever before. As in recent years, Polish was the most common of the foreign mother tongues, with 1,063 children speaking Polish. The second most common mother tongue was English (356 children) followed by Spanish (166 children). The greatest increase was in the number of children speaking Ukrainian, from 16 to 58. The number of children with foreign citizenship has increased to 9.9%, more than ever before. The largest increase was in the number of children from Asia and South America.

Only 19% of one-year-olds attend preschool in southwest region

The proportion of 1- to 5-year-old children attending preschools decreased by one percentage point from the previous year, from 88% to 87%, as the number of children in preschools did not increase at the same rate as the number of children in that age group in the country. When one-year-olds are considered, attendance varies greatly between regions. While overall, 54% of one-year-olds attended preschools in December 2022, in the east that figure was 82% and it was 74% in the Westfjords. The proportion was by far the lowest in the Southwest region, with just 19% of one-year-olds attending preschool. Incidentally, the southwest region has a higher rate of foreign residents than most other regions.

The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland released earlier this month recommended Iceland’s policy focus on helping migrants integrate, including increasing support for students with immigrant backgrounds and more teacher training in multicultural education. The survey pointed out that immigration has brought significant economic benefits to Iceland with an influx of young people with high participation rates in the labour market.

Multicultural Festival Celebrated as Part of ‘Friendship Week’ in Vopnafjörður

The East Iceland village of Vopnafjörður will celebrate its second annual Multicultural Festival on Saturday, with international food, dance exhibitions, games, international cartoons for children, and more. Austurfrétt reports that just under 10% of the fishing village’s population is of foreign extraction, with full-time residents hailing from 20 different countries around the world.

As of September, 670 people called Vopnafjörður home. Sixty of these residents are originally from another country. Poles make up the largest subset of foreign residents, followed by Bulgarians. The village is also home to people from Sweden and Pakistan, among other nations.

Flags representing all the nationalities living in Vopnafjörður at the village’s 2020 Multicultural Festival. Photo: Vopnafjörður, FB.

“People have always come here from abroad,” says Þórhildur Sigurðardóttir, who oversees multicultural and diversity initiatives for the larger municipality. Þórhildur explained that the village has a history of attracting foreign workers, but it’s only recently that the makeup of the fulltime population has been so diverse.

“There are people with Faroese roots, and then Danish women came to work here. I think one of them is still left. Otherwise, there weren’t many [other nationalities] here even six years ago. For a long time, it was just one woman from Poland. But that’s changed completely.”

Vopnafjörður held its first Multicultural Festival in 2020, at which time, there were people from 22 countries living in the village. The following year, a Children’s Cultural Festival was held instead, but still with a multicultural focus. During that festival, kids were taught how to count to five in 13 languages and flags were raised for each of the nationalities living there.

This year, the Multicultural Festival is just one part of a week-long ‘Friendship Week,’ sponsored by a local youth club and programmed entirely by teenagers. Friendship Week runs from Friday, October 7 to Sunday, October 16 and will include a variety of events, including a parade, a potluck-style cake buffet, a movie night, a ‘goodwill marathon,’ in which residents are encouraged to do good deeds for one another (such as raking leaves, folding laundry, dog walking, etc), an intergenerational game night, and more.

West Iceland’s First Pride Celebration Draws Crowds

LGBTQ hinsegin vesturland Borgarnes pride parade June 10 2021

Borgarnes, West Iceland was blanketed by rainbows – and crowds – last Saturday at the region’s first-ever pride celebrations. The event was one of the first projects of the region’s newly-minted LGBT+ association Hinsegin Vesturland. The organisers say they are overjoyed with the turnout and hope to change the discourse on LGBT+ issues in the Icelandic countryside.

The sister Guðrún Steinunn and Bjargey Anna Guðbrandsdóttir are among the finders of the association and organisers of the local pride festival. “This is so, so much bigger than we ever expected,” Bjargey told RÚV. “When [Guðrún] started talking about this idea a few years ago we imagined one float and walking with our family on the float. I don’t even know how many people are here, it’s wonderful.”

Alexander Aron Guðjónsson is another one of the event’s organisers. Asked about the importance of holding an LGBT+ festival in the countryside, he answered: “There is a slightly different rhetoric here in the countryside about LGBT+ people. So it’s very positive to do this in as many places as possible so that there is an open discussion about everything and everyone, everywhere.”

The West Iceland LGBT+ Association (Hinsegin Vesturland) was founded in February of this year. North Iceland and East Iceland also have regional LGBT+ associations. Samtökin ’78 is Iceland’s National Queer Organisation as was the first association of its kind in Iceland.

Iceland Officially Recognises Jewish Community as Religious Organisation

Iceland’s Jewish community reached a historic milestone last month when Judaism was officially registered as a religion in the country. Though Jewish people have been living in Iceland since the late 1800s, the group had not been registered as an official religious community until this year. Iceland’s only Rabbi, Avi Feldman, says although the recognition comes with some practical benefits, it doesn’t necessarily change much for the community, which has been active for decades.

“On the one hand, there is no change, because Jewish life has been active here for a long time,” Rabbi Feldman told Iceland Review. “I can speak for the past few years since we’ve come here, there’s been all sorts of wonderful things happening. The community was here, it just wasn’t registered and it’s more of a formal thing. But at the same time people feel, and I feel very strongly, that it’s also a historic step and something that is a wonderful accomplishment.”

Formal recognition of a religious group comes with some practical benefits in Iceland. “First of all, there are the life cycle events starting with baby namings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals: all of these things can now be done within the community and recognised,” Rabbi Feldman explains. In Iceland, all taxpayers can participate in a religious tax and choose which religious organisation their funds are directed to. “So now there’s the option that they can direct these funds to the Jewish community.”

The registration should also make it easier for the Jewish community to eventually acquire a plot of land. “In the future we would love to see some type of Jewish community centre that could house all sorts of things. It could house a synagogue, some type of Jewish museum for people to learn about Jewish life and values and history so there’s all kinds of possibilities.”

Aim to Build a Welcoming Community

According to the Rabbi, the community’s ultimate goal is not to have as many registered members as possible, rather to create a welcoming environment for Jews and others. “To us, the most important thing is not people registering and having a certain membership. Our belief is that anyone who is Jewish is part of the Jewish community, everyone has a place here. We have people of different backgrounds, different levels of observance, different customs: we try to give all of these people the feeling that the community is a place for them and they are welcome there.”

The Rabbi acknowledges that not all Jewish people in Iceland would necessarily want to become registered members either. “Jewish people might understandably think twice about actually registering with the community – they may want privacy. We’ve had a difficult history, even recent history in the last century. We don’t put any pressure on anyone to register themselves, so I don’t think the number of registered people will ever reflect the actual size of the community, and that’s OK.”

When he moved to Iceland with his family a few years ago, Rabbi Feldman expected to find fewer than 100 Jewish people living in the country. “But actually every single week, sometimes every single day, we’re meeting people. People are reaching out, friends bring friends, we’re constantly meeting new people who we didn’t know about before who are living in Iceland. So I would say that just after living here for a few years, we know a few hundred Jews, and I don’t think we know everyone, so it could be double or triple that number.”

Rabbi Feldman speaks positively about his experience living in Iceland. “Iceland is a wonderful place, we’ve had excellent experiences here, people are so nice and we feel so welcome and accepted. The registration is a continuation of that effort of making it clear that every community has a place.”

The Jewish Center of Iceland will hold a Holocaust Memorial today in collaboration with the Polish, German, and US Embassies in Iceland at this link.

Living Art Museum Aims to Reflect Iceland’s Diversity

Nýlistasafnið/The Living Art Museum

The Living Art Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland, has sent out an open call for its autumn exhibition for the year 2021. The call is particularly directed at individuals and groups who have traditionally been excluded from fine art institutions in Iceland, such as the LGBT+ community, Icelanders of foreign origin, mixed Icelanders, immigrants, and “people who find themselves voiceless within the socio-political structure.”

“With this open application process, we want to counteract any kind of discrimination that takes place in our society today, such as racial inequality, and the suppression of marginalized groups and cultures,” a press release from the Museum reads.

The idea to direct the open call to marginalised groups and individuals came from the Museum’s staff and board earlier this year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the world. “This struggle […] led to a great deal of introspection by the board of the Living Art Museum. As a result, it has become clear to the museum’s management that we have not been able to fully reflect the diverse growth that characterizes art and human life in Iceland.”

“It is important that all cultural institutions in the country undergo a substantial self-examination. What kind of space are these institutions creating? And for whom?” the Museum states, and the project representatives say they hope the initiative serves as a guiding light for other institutions in Iceland

To go over the open call submissions, the Museum’s board is putting together a special selection committee “in order to ensure diversity and counteract hidden bias.” The deadline for submissions is October 4. All the application details, including translation of the text to Arabic, Polish, and Icelandic can be found here.

Discuss Racism in Iceland via Björk’s Instagram Page

Icelandic musician Björk’s Instagram account will host a live discussion in English on racism in Iceland at 6.00pm GMT tonight. The discussion will be held by Chanel Björk Sturludóttir and Diana Rós Hạhn Breckmann, two Icelanders of mixed origin, and will focus on “how the BLM movement has had an impact here too,” according to a post on Björk’s Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBkpe8ojnwR/

Chanel produced a radio show for Iceland’s National Broadcaster RÚV last year called Íslenska mannflóran focusing on Icelanders of mixed origin and deconstructing the concepts of nationality, race, and multiculturalism. She is also a co-founder of Hennar rödd (Her Voice), an annual event that creates a platform for women of multicultural ethnicity to share their experiences of Icelandic society. Diana, a fashion stylist, has been vocal against cultural appropriation in fashion.

Over 3,000 people attended a Black Lives Matter solidarity meeting in Reykjavík earlier this month. The event was organised by African Americans living in Iceland. A meeting was also held in Ísafjörður, the Westfjords, on the same day, where some 100 people attended.

East Iceland LGBT+ Association Established Today

LGBT+ Iceland

A new LGBT+ association in East Iceland aims to prevent isolation and create a sense of community among LGBT+ people living in Iceland’s countryside, GayIceland reports. Mother of four and lawyer Jódís Skúla decided to found the organisation, called Hinsegin Austurland, when she moved back to her hometown of Egilsstaðir following more than 20 years in Reykjavík.

”When I was growing up here in East Iceland there were no role models”, explains Jódís, when asked about how the organisation can help young LGBT+ people in the region. ”And I found myself so isolated that I chose to move to Reykjavik. I don’t want young people to ever experience the same feeling of loneliness. And even though times are different now we still need to stand together and protect the rights we have fought for and overcome still-existing injustice.”

The organisation’s inaugural meeting will be held today at 3.00pm at Hótel Valaskjálf in Eglisstaðir. The meeting will be followed by a drag competition and performances by members of Iceland’s LGBT+ community Haffi Haff and Páll Óskar.

Hinsegin Austurland plans on holding meetings for the LGBT+ community every two weeks, as well as offering educational workshops and pop-up events.