Palestinian Refugees Arrive with Volunteer Help

Keflavík Airport

Eleven Palestinians arrived to Iceland yesterday, all of whom already had Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. They were assisted in crossing the border into Egypt by Icelandic volunteers in the area, Vísir reports.

More to be assisted

Among those who arrived is a father with three children, one of whom is a boy injured during the Gaza conflict. Three mothers with a child each are also in the group. One of the children is a chronically ill girl. “She’s been without medicine for a long time,” said Gunnhildur Sveinsdóttir, one of the volunteers arriving back from Cairo.

Gunnhildur said that the group of volunteers has been in touch with the Ministry of Social Affairs and that the International Organization for Migration had escorted the refugees after they crossed the border into Egypt. The volunteers in Cairo are still looking to help 17 more people cross the border and are hoping that this will come to pass in the next few days.

Hard, exhausting work

Gunnhildur added that the volunteers pay for their own expenses while on the mission. They have helped the refugees get accommodation and necessities when in Egypt, while supplying the local authorities with information about Icelandic visa holders. “It’s been a lot of work,” she said. “You arrive back pretty exhausted, but it’s absolutely worth it. The stay in Cairo was good and we were well received.”

Volunteer Efforts Prompt Icelandic Government Action on Gaza Visas

Palestine protest February 5 2024

The Icelandic government sent three representatives to Cairo, Egypt last week to meet with local authorities and assess the situation regarding Icelandic visa-holders who remain trapped in neighbouring Gaza. Iceland’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have both said that extracting Palestinians who hold Icelandic visas from Gaza is “complicated.” Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilians working on a volunteer basis in Cairo have already gotten two families out of Gaza across the Rafah border and continue their efforts.

Around 120 Palestinians currently in Gaza, mostly children, hold Icelandic residency permits. The Icelandic government issued these permits on the basis of family reunification but has, until last week, not taken action to help the children, women, and men leave Gaza and travel to Iceland. Around one week ago, three Icelandic civilians decided to take matters into their own hands, and travelled to Cairo, from where they have helped two families out of Gaza across the Rafah border.

Visas already approved

Sending foreign service representatives to Cairo is a “positive and important step,” stated Left-Green Movement MP Bjarni Jónsson, who is also the first vice-chair of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. “We have already approved inviting these people to Iceland,” He added. “Already approved these family reunifications. The next thing is to keep the promise we’ve given these people.”

The volunteers in Cairo have pointed out that the Icelandic state does not have to pay to transport Palestinian refugees from Egypt as the United Nations covers the cost of their trip.

Public criticism mounts

The public in Iceland has been critical of the government’s perceived reluctance to carry out the family reunifications. Criticism mounted when it came to light that other Nordic countries had actively retrieved people from Gaza based on family reunification visas, contrary to what Iceland’s Prime Minister and Justice Minister had stated. Regular protests have been held in Reykjavík calling on the government to rescue the Icelandic visa-holders from Gaza.

Aid organisations wait for government action

Sema Erla Serdar, director of Icelandic refugee aid organisation Solaris, recently joined the Icelandic civilians in Cairo who are working to get Palestinians with Icelandic visas across the border. She told RÚV that she hopes the Icelandic government’s decision to send out representatives means it will act on the family reunifications soon. “But you can’t just talk forever, you have to let your actions speak.”

Hjálmtýr Heiðdal, the director of the Association Iceland-Palestine, agreed that the outcome of the representatives’ trip is yet to be seen. He stated, however, that it was clear the civilian efforts in Cairo had put pressure on the Icelandic government to act on the family reunifications.

“All of the answers we have received so far from the authorities have always been that it would be so complicated and impossible and that they had no obligation to do it. So it is clear that these brave women and their trip to Egypt is what finally makes the Ministry for Foreign Affairs take action,” Hjálmtýr stated.

Continue Efforts to Save Icelandic Visa-Holders from Gaza

Rafah_Border_Crossing

Three Icelandic women who have been in Egypt for around a week are continuing their efforts to assist Icelandic visa holders in Gaza across the Rafah border, and eventually home to Iceland. The women helped one Palestinian woman and her three sons across the border three days ago and are now trying to help another woman in Gaza and her three-year-old daughter reach safety. They call on the Icelandic authorities to rescue the roughly 120 people in Gaza who have already been granted Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification.

“The feeling of seeing the family was indescribable, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, one of the three Icelanders currently in Cairo, told Iceland Review. “Also the feeling of getting the news that they were coming across the border, it was like finally breathing out after not realising you had been holding your breath for a long time.”

Icelandic authorities have not offered assistance

Bergþóra, a writer, is in Cairo along with fellow writer Kristín Eiríksdóttir and media professional María Lilja Þrastardóttir. All three are volunteering their time and say they will continue their efforts until the Icelandic government takes over. Both Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had previously stated that getting Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza was “complicated,” despite other Nordic countries having done so.

“Icelandic authorities have not had any contact with us, they have not offered us any assistance,” Bergþóra stated. “We have been in contact with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour about getting the first family home [to Iceland] and they have been very helpful.” Bergþóra explains that all of the families have been approved to receive UN funding for their cost of travel to Iceland. “The Icelandic state doesn’t have to pay for people returning home from Egypt.”

Impending attack at Rafah border

The situation at the Rafah border is dangerous, with an impending attack announced by Israeli authorities. “Israeli ministers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have stated that the next target is the Rafah border, where there are currently around 1.8 million people in a very small area, so it’s incredibly dangerous. We want the Icelandic authorities to come get these people right away because Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world right now.”

Fundraising efforts underway

Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has argued that more asylum seekers would be a strain on Iceland’s infrastructure. Bergþóra criticises this argument: “We want the Icelandic authorities to take responsibility and not talk about the country’s infrastructure in the context of a few souls from Gaza, the infrastructure that they have been underfunding themselves, systematically, for decades. Now, suddenly, when we’re talking about saving the lives of a few children from Palestine who are in the middle of a genocide, now suddenly they’re worried about our infrastructure.”

Around 120 people in Gaza hold Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Around 75 of them are children, the rest are mostly women, and a handful are fathers with children in Iceland. Bergþóra stated that those who want to support the group’s rescue efforts can contribute to funding efforts organised by Solaris “and by continuing to speak, scream, fight, and call for the children to be rescued.”

Icelandic Delegation to Advocate Sticking to 1.5 °C Goal at COP27

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt. The leader of Iceland’s delegation has told RÚV that Iceland will advocate sticking to the goal of curbing the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 °C.

Sticking to the Paris Agreement

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is a venue for governments to agree on action to limit global temperature rises associated with climate change. This year’s conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt.

Iceland will send a delegation to the conference as the country’s formal representative. In an interview with RÚV, delegation leader Helga Barðadóttir elucidated some of Iceland’s main points of emphasis:

“Our hope is that countries will keep the goal of curbing the global temperature rise to 1.5°, meaning that Earth’s temperature will not rise above 1.5° from industrial levels, which was enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Despite increasing emphasis being placed on curbing the rise of temperatures to 2°,” Helga stated that Iceland would “emphasise 1.5°.”

Read More: The climate disaster has already begun to materialise

This summer, Halldór Þorgeirsson, Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council, underscored the importance of ensuring greater supervision of governmental action plans. An assessment report recently noted that a gap remained between current emissions and the goals laid out by the government’s action plan.

“Following up on such a big project requires constant work,” Helga remarked. “What marks a big leap forward for us is that work has begun where we’ve pulled different sectors of the economy into a larger conversation, encouraging them to set goals to reduce emissions. The companies working within these sectors are most familiar with their own operations and so are best suited to identify those aspects of their operations where emissions can be curbed. Alongside of that, we’re reviewing our action plan.”

Residence Permit Granted to Egyptian Family on Humanitarian Grounds

Iceland’s Immigration Appeals Board has rereviewed the asylum application filed by the Khedrs, an Egyptian family of six whose planned deportation this month provoked extensive protests and a broader discussion of the government’s asylum review process. RÚV reports that the Khedrs will receive residence permits on humanitarian grounds, although the appeals board maintains that this is due to an unacceptable delay in the processing of their case, not because the family risks persecution if they are sent back to Egypt.

See Also: “They’re With Me”: Icelanders Campaign for Asylum Seeker Family on Social Media

The Khedrs were scheduled to be deported on September 16, but when the police arrived to escort the family to the airport, Ibrahim Khedr, his wife Dooa, and their four children were not at their place of residence. They went into hiding, with Icelanders showing their support for the family’s situation through protests, both in person and via the social media campaign #þaueruhjámér (they’re with me). The family has been in Iceland since August 2018, when they requested asylum on the grounds of political persecution due to the father’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood. As they have been in Iceland for more than two years, their case is controversial, in part because regulations state that families with children should be granted asylum on humanitarian grounds if they have to wait more than 16 months for an asylum application verdict.

See Also: Egyptian Family Not Deported, Whereabouts Unknown

“They can come out of hiding, we won this case,” the family’s lawyer, Magnús Davíð Norðdahl told reporters on Thursday. “The children can go back to school. This is fantastic news and now they can carry on with their lives.”

“This is a great victory for the family and, in my estimation, no less for Icelandic society, for the power of the collective, which often comes into play here. The family extends its many, many thanks to all of those who have supported them in this matter.”

Appeals board says family not at risk, but waiting period too long

Magnús petitioned for the immigration appeals board to reopen the family’s case after their deportation did not take place, stating that authorities had not done an independent and comprehensive assessment of the children’s best interest. He also said the Directorate of Immigration never investigated whether the mother and ten-year-old daughter were in a particularly sensitive position as over 90% of women in Egypt had suffered genital mutilation.

In its reinvestigation of the family’s situation, the appeals board stated that there had been no mention of the risk of genital mutilation in the original application, but that there were enough grounds to reinvestigate the family’s situation. They ultimately decided that the girl was not at risk of degrading or inhumane treatment upon return to Egypt. Nevertheless, the time period that the family had had to wait for their case to be adjudicated had extended beyond the allowable 16 months and as such, the Khedrs will receive residence permits on humanitarian grounds.

“It’s what any parents in the same situation would do”

Magnús says that he believes that public outcry against the family’s scheduled deportation played an important role in the decision to reopen their case and rereview their application for asylum. He also said that their decision to go into hiding was a desperate measure, and understandable given the circumstances.

“It’s entirely understandable. It’s what any parents in the same situation would do, but I believed that this situation would work out and so it has today.”

Justice Minister Says System is Not at Fault for Egyptian Family’s Deportation

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says the case of an Egyptian family that is to be deported tomorrow is not evidence of systemic issues when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers in Iceland. The family of six has lived in Iceland for over two years and applied for political asylum. The Judicial Affairs and Education Committee is meeting to discuss the family’s case today.

Áslaug Arna says she had investigated why the family had stayed in Iceland so long without a resolution to their case. “My investigation revealed that it is not the system’s fault in this individual case,” she stated in a radio interview this morning. Asked whether she could change policy and make the decision to allow the family to stay, Áslaug responded: “No, the Minister does not make such decisions and it would be necessary to change regulations and laws. No specific issues in the system have been identified that need to be changed in order for this family to fall within it.”

The time period the family has lived in Iceland is particularly significant: last year, new regulations issued by the Ministry of Justice mandated that visas be granted on humanitarian grounds any time court proceedings regarding asylum applications dragged on for longer than 16 months. In the case of this particular family, for reasons that were not explained by the Minister, the time that they waited to have their initial application reviewed prior to the appeal is not being figured into the overall wait time. A lawyer for the Red Cross has since called this selective time-keeping “unacceptable” and said that the current law needs to be changed.

Read More: Family of Six to Be Deported

Over 12,000 Have Signed Petition in Support of Family

The decision to deport the family has elicited harsh criticism, particularly due to the four children – Rewida, Abdalla, Hamza, and Mustafa – who have adapted to life in the country and learned Icelandic. Over 12,500 have signed a petition urging the government to let the family stay. Magnús Davíð Norðdahl, the family’s lawyer, and Salvör Nordal, the Ombudsman for Children, have both criticised the decision, particularly as it violates the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iceland is party.

The two parents, Doaa and Ibrahim, told reporters they feared being arrested upon arrival to Egypt due to their previous activities in support of the political opposition in the country. They are concerned their children would be taken from them and left to fend for themselves. “I am speaking to you for my children,” Doaa told reporters. “They will be in the street after that. Please, please, please don’t let me alone.”

The family is set to be deported tomorrow.

Family of Six to be Deported Next Week

A six-person family, including four children aged two to twelve, will be deported from Iceland on Wednesday of next week, RÚV reports. The family hails from Egypt and has been living in Iceland for two years, having applied for asylum in August 2018. Despite public outcry over the family’s situation, however, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says that the government will not be making any policy changes to benefit a single family.

The Directorate of Immigration rejected the asylum application submitted by spouses Dooa and Ibrahim on behalf of themselves and their children Rewida, Abdalla, Hamza, and Mustafa in July of last year. The decision was appealed, but that appeal has now also been denied, some 15 months later. This time period is particularly significant; last year, new regulations issued by the Ministry of Justice mandated that visas be granted on humanitarian grounds any time court proceedings regarding asylum applications dragged on for longer than 16 months.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says that processing times have been shortened for humanitarian cases, particularly when children are involved. For reasons that were not explained by the minister, the time that the family waited to have their initial application reviewed prior to the appeal is not being figured into the overall wait time. A lawyer for the Red Cross has since called this selective time-keeping “unacceptable” and said that the current law needs to be changed. “It should much rather be the time from when the application is submitted to when they receive a written decision…” said lawyer Guðríður Lára Þrastardóttir.

During the time that they’ve lived in Iceland, the family has put down roots. The children have attended school and kindergarten, learned Icelandic, and made friends. Nevertheless, Áslaug remarked, “we’re not making changes to regulations to save individual families who go to the media.”