Fundraising Campaign Hopes to Reunify Palestinian Families

Palestine protest Feb 5 2024

An Icelandic aid organisation has initiated a fundraising campaign to assist in relocating 128 Palestinians from Gaza, addressing delays in government action regarding family reunification. The successful transfer of a family to Egypt by three Icelandic citizens underscores the practicality of such efforts, the organisation maintains.

Government inaction

A fundraising effort has been initiated by the humanitarian aid organisation Solaris to cover the costs of relocating 128 Palestinians from Gaza. According to a website dedicated to the effort, these individuals — 75 children, 44 mothers, and 9 fathers — have been “waiting for months for assistance from the Icelandic authorities,” as they have been granted residency permits in Iceland based on family reunification.

The decision to raise funds follows perceived inaction on behalf of the government.

“People living in Iceland and waiting desperately for their families have repeatedly requested dialogue with the authorities, which has almost exclusively been denied or ignored. Meanwhile, government ministers have repeatedly misled the public to divert the discussion and try to absolve themselves of moral responsibility,” the website notes

“Time is running out. In Gaza, people are in great danger. We must respond to their emergency.”

New policy needs to be formulated

In an interview with the Stöð 2 evening news yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson stated that it would not be possible to start retrieving the aforementioned 128 individuals from Gaza until a new government policy had been formulated; Iceland’s infrastructure could burst under the additional strain, as the asylum-seeker system was currently costing taxpayers over ISK 20 billion [$145 million / €135 million] annually. 

“We simply cannot continue to blindly accept more people than everyone else and watch our infrastructure burst. That is the situation we are facing,” Bjarni observed. 

Not just a matter of sending documents

On a similar note, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV yesterday that the issue was complex, with three ministries working to ensure the people are brought to the country. 

According to Katrín, the Directorate of Immigration has prioritised the applications of Palestinians, and the Ministry of Social Affairs has negotiated with the International Organization for Migration, IOM, to assist in moving the people between locations. 

Katrín stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sent documents regarding those who have received residency permits based on family reunification: “These documents are sent to the appropriate places in both Egypt and Israel. Then, due to the situation, it becomes slightly more complicated than just sending such documents; it requires sending personnel to the location.”  

Katrín added that the transport of these individuals would be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Costly, yes; complex, no

Solaris rejects the notion that reunifying families is complex, noting that three Icelandic women (Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, and María Lilja Þrastardóttir) — dismayed by the government’s inaction — recently managed to bring a woman and three children from Gaza to safety in Egypt. 

It took only four days.

As noted by Vísir, the Palestinian woman and the three children are related to a friend of the three Icelandic women. The man has been residing in Iceland in recent years. He received an Icelandic identification number (Kennitala) last year and applied for family reunification in April 2023.

Solaris admits, however, that relocating people from Gaza to Egypt requires significant financial resources. 

“The total cost of legally moving about 100 individuals across the border, in cooperation with service providers and contacts working with Egyptian and Israeli authorities responsible for these matters, is around ISK 50 million or [$363,000 / €337,000],” the fundraising website notes.

Icelandic Musicians Perform for Palestine

concert for Palestine

Páll Óskar, JFDR, Úlfur Úlfur, and Cyber will be performing at a solidarity and fundraising concert for Palestine in Reykjavík’s Gamla Bíó tonight, November 16. The concert is organised by the Association Iceland-Palestine and hosted by actress Þuríður Blær. All proceeds go to relief efforts in Gaza.

A press release from the association states that 11,320 people, including 4,650 children, have been killed in the Israeli Army’s air raids since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli civilians on October 7. It goes on to describe the situation created by Israel’s block of transport of water, food, fuel, and medicine as well as the bombing of hospitals, schools, and refugee camps. “It has never been more important to show solidarity with the Palestinian nation than it is right now. We are really proud and thankful for all of the great people who have contributed to holding this awesome concert,” the notice reads.

Protests for Palestine

The Association goes on to encourage the international community and the Icelandic government to respond to the situation in Gaza by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel and boycotting Israeli products, as well as calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Locals in Iceland have been holding regular protests condemning Israel’s attacks on Gaza as well as the Icelandic government’s response to the crisis. Iceland abstained from voting on a ceasefire in Gaza at an emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in October. The Icelandic Parliament has since unanimously passed a resolution condemning violence against civilians and calling for adherence to international laws.

Fundraising dinner

Before the event, Palestinians living in Iceland are inviting the public to a fundraising dinner in solidarity and support of the people of Gaza. The Association Iceland-Palestine encourages those who are unable to come to the concert but want to support the cause to donate to their humanitarian relief efforts by making a transfer to the following account number: 542-26-6990, Kennitala: 520188-1349 (explanation “tonleikar”).

Art Auction Raises Over a Million to Support Refugee Children

The Association Réttindi barna á flótta, or Rights of Displaced Children, raised ISK 1.082 million [$7,642; €7,209] at an art auction at Iðnó on Saturday, mbl.is reports. Local children also did their part by selling their own artwork and Christmas cards during the auction and raised ISK 36,000 [$254; €239] for the cause.

Homecoming, Úlfur Karlsson (via Réttur barna á flótta)

“We reached our goal, which was to cover the bills that we already owe in connection with the help we’ve been providing children of late,” said co-founder Esther Þorvaldsdóttir.

Saturday’s weather discouraged the happenstance foot traffic that the auction might have otherwise enjoyed given the venue’s central location, but there was still a fair turnout from local art collectors who’d been hoping to add to their collections. A group of tourists were also invited in to come in, enjoy the art, and warm themselves from the cold.

Krasý (hat), GAGA SKORRDAL (via Réttur barna á flótta)

The auction included musical performances from Sigríður Thorlacius and Guðmundur Óskar, as well as author and artist Hallgrímur Helgason’s recitation of a poem he wrote for the occasion. Hallgrímur was also among the artists whose work was sold at the auction.

The system and life, Hallgrímur Helgason (via Réttur barna á flotta)

Úlfur Karlsson, Sunna Ben, GAGA SKORRDAL, Hugleikur Dagsson, Þrándur Þórarinsson, Þorvaldur Jónsson, and Lu Hong also offered work for auction. There was also an original Pippi Longstocking drawing that artist Marit Törnqvist originally made for author Astrid Lindgren.

Pippi Longstocking, Marit Törnquist for Astrid Lindgren (via Réttur barna á flótta)

Not all of the artworks on offer sold at the auction, so any would-be art collectors who want to support a good cause can still make a bid on the organization’s art auction website.

Open Water Swimmer Takes to the Sea for a Good Cause

Open water swimmer Sigurgeir Svanbergsson took to the sea on Friday for a good cause. RÚV reports that the self-trained sea swimming enthusiast set out on his odyssey from the Westman Islands to Landeyjasandur on the mainland at 3:45 pm and was expected to complete the 12-km [7.5 mi] journey in five to six hours, arriving between 9:00 and 10:00 pm.

Sigurgeir is swimming on behalf of Save the Children Iceland. (Donate here.) All the money he collects for his monumental undertaking will be donated. He considers this a truly pressing issue, noting that one in every six children in the world—or 450 million total—live in conflict zones, which is a 5% increase from last year.

Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum, FB

‘I always have to go a little further and try something a little harder’

This isn’t Sigurgeir’s first open water plunge—nor his first for charity—although he is still relatively new to the pursuit. Last year, with very little prior swimming experience, he swam across Kollafjörður from Kjalarnes to Reykjavík. (In that instance, he swam for Unique Children in Iceland, a support group for children with rare diseases.)

Sea swimming was a pursuit he took up during the COVID lockdown years, unable to practice or compete in his first sport, Lethwei, a particularly strenuous, full-contact form of boxing practiced in Myanmar. “I was supposed to be competing in the world championship, but COVID spoiled that. […] So I had to find something else to do.” Sigurgeir had no particular background in swimming and had only really practiced when he was in school. But that was part of the appeal for him. “I’m really interested in putting myself in situations that are really challenging. It’s so interesting to see where your head goes when you find yourself in a situation that’s actually kind of impossible.”

And he learned a lot during the course of that first journey, even if it wasn’t all smooth swimming. “It went well, I finished it, but with all kinds of complications,” he recalled in a recent radio interview. For one thing, the engine went out on his escort boat and Sigurgeir ended up having to swim around it for an hour and a half while he waited for a new one. During that break, the currents in the fjord changed direction and so Sigurgeir had to complete his journey swimming against a strong current. The swim took nine hours.

“It was hard and I almost failed,” he said. “But then I always have to go a little further and try something a little harder.”

Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum, FB

 Learning from experience

Sigurgeir has certainly found something “a little harder” with his current swim. The distance of the Kollafjörður swim was just the same, 12 km, but the swim from the Westman Islands will be much more difficult. “So, this is the open sea, of course,” Sigurgeir noted. “I really have no idea what I’m getting into, in a way.”

He’s learned from previous experience, however, and in addition to training extensively in advance of Friday’s swim—both physical preparation in the form of cold training and mental preparation for better stress management—Sigurgeir has made some adjustments. He said he’d be more mindful of the change currents and planned to bring a kayak with him where he could eat mid-swim. He was also going to practice better feeding methods. Sigurgeir said he didn’t do this very well last year and as a result, ended up vomiting for the last three hours of his swim. “There was actually a trail of vomit behind me the whole way.”

Outlook good

At time of writing, Sigurgeir hadn’t completed his swim from the Westmans to Iceland’s mainland, but the conditions were good when he set out. The currents were favourable, and the weather on Heimey, the only inhabited island in the Westmans from where he set out, was good: 10°C [50°F], with just a slight breeze, a bit of fog, and scattered showers.

Sigurgeir was in high spirits before setting out on Friday afternoon, saying: “In the first place, I just think it’s exciting. Just such an exciting idea to give this a try. And then there’s a good cause, too.”

Check Sigurgeir’s Facebook page, Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum (‘Swam from the Westman Islands’), to see how his saga ended on Friday night.

Around the Westfjords—in a Tractor—in Seven Days

In 2015, Grétar Gústavsson and Karl Friðriksson circumnavigated Iceland on a 1963 Massey Ferguson 35X tractor to raise funds for Vinátta (‘Friendship’), Save the Children Iceland’s anti-bullying project. However, at the time, the lifelong friends skipped over the Westfjords. Visír reports that they’ve now been challenged to complete the full journey-by-tractor by circling the peninsula in seven days.

The pair set out from beloved roadtrip rest stop Staðarskáli in Northwest Iceland on Wednesday, July 13 and are set to finish their 950-km [590 mi] voyage in Hvanneyri on Wednesday, July 20. They will be accompanied on their travels by Blær, Vinátta’s purple teddy bear mascot, and all three will be popping in to say hi at Westfjord kindergartens along the way.

‘It’s important to have dreams’

Karl and Grétar have been friends for sixty years. Their lives have taken them down different paths—Grétar is described as a master auto mechanic and farm equipment and vintage car enthusiast, while Karl is the managing director of the Icelandic Center for Future Studies—but their friendship has never faltered. The ’63 Massey Ferguson 35X tractor is symbolic for them because it’s the tractor that captured their imaginations when they were growing up in Fitjardalur, Northwest Iceland. When the first one arrived in the countryside, it was “like a Rolls Royce had driven into the farmyard.”

“Having dreams is important for people young and old,” remarked Grétar. “Sometimes dreams come true in different forms—which might even be better than the original version. The main thing is to work on your dreams and let them guide the course of your life, within reason.”

Donate to the cause

After their 2015 tractor trip, Karl and Grétar further supported Vinátta by publishing the picture book Friends of Ferguson: A Trip Around the Country Against Bullying. All proceeds went directly to the cause. This trip will also support Save the Children Iceland’s anti-bullying project. To contribute, send a text message (within Iceland) with the message “Barnaheill” to 1900 to automatically donate kr. 1,900. You can also make a donation via the page on Save the Children Iceland’s website, here.

Grétar and Karl’s itinerary is as follows:

July 13: Staðarskáli to Hólmavík

July 14: Hólmavík to Hamar

July 15: Hamar to Ögur

July 16: Ögur to Ísafjörður

July 17: Ísafjörður to Bíldudalur

July 18: Bíldudalur to Flókalundur

July 19: Flókalundur to Reykhólar/Hríshóli

July 20: Reykhólar to Hvanneyri

Björk to Stage Three Unplugged, Fundraising Concerts in August

This August, Björk will stage three, special matinee performances to raise awareness about, and funds for, causes important to her. “i want to invite you to some concerts,” she wrote in a Facebook post in late June. “i want to celebrate that we’ve at least made it through the first stage of the coronavirus epidemic and honour the many icelandic musicians i’ve worked with through the years.”

“i recorded almost all of my albums with local musicians,” Björk wrote in a translation of her post on the Harpa website:

homogenic with an icelandic string octet

medulla with schola cantorum ( an icelandic mixed choir )

volta with 10 brass girls i found all over the island and then later they formed wonderbrass

biophilia with langholt´s church girl choir graduale nobili

vulnicura with a 15 piece string ensemble

utopia with 12 female fluteplayers who later formed the flute septet viibra

cornucopia with hamrahlíð´s choir conducted by þorgerður ingólfsdóttir

all these albums where then performed all around the planet with these musicians

together they are over hundred people !!

and we are going to celebrate that we are all healthily exiting quarantine together by playing concerts in harpa

my input into the feminist fight is to brag about that almost all of those arrangements are by me

unfortunately this is something that is almost always ignored when women are arrangers

Björk Orkestral – Live from Reykjavík” will be comprised of three, unique unplugged/acoustic performances. For the first performance, she’ll perform with the Hamrahlið Choir (conductor Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir) and organist Bergur Þórisson. The following week, she’ll be accompanied by the string section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra (conductor Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason), and finally, for the last performance, she’ll be joined by the brass section of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the flute septet Viibra, and harpists Katie Buckley and Jónas Sen.

Each of the performances will be held in the afternoon and streamed live, giving viewers the opportunity to donate to Kvennaathvarfið, a local women’s shelter which provides assistance to women and children who have had to leave their homes because of domestic violence. In-person attendees will have the opportunity to purchase food after the show, the proceeds of which will also support the shelter.

Referencing the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Björk concluded by writing:

i feel we are going through extraordinary times

horrifying but also an opportunity to truly change

it is demanded of us that we finally confront all racism

that we learn that lives are more important that profit

and look inside us and finecomb out all our hidden prejudices and privileges

let´s all humbly learn together

transform

humongous love

Tickets for the concerts will go on sale at noon on July 3.

Sixteen-Year-Old Walks Around Iceland in 43 Days

Sixteen-year-old Eva Bryndís Ágústsdóttir has finished her solo walk around Iceland, RÚV reports. The 1,500km (932mi) walk – which Eva Bryndís undertook to raise money for the Iceland Children’s Hospital – took her 43 days, during which time she walked an average of 35km (21.7mi) a day. On her longest day, she walked 46km (28.6mi).

“There are so many feelings,” she remarked at her journey’s end. “I’m tired, pretty exhausted. I’m also a bit down. It was obviously a remarkable trip – it was so much fun and it’s too bad that it’s over. Finally, I get my summer break now,” she said.

Eva Bryndís was raising money for the Children’s Hospital in honour of her brother, who has been struggling with illness for a long time, and received good treatment at the hospital. She said she enjoyed seeing Iceland by foot. “It all went amazingly well. I was really lucky with the weather, which is odd, because this is Iceland.”

Other than a blister and a bit of muscle stiffness, Eva Bryndís is none the worse for wear than she was when she started. She raised ISK 1.3 million ($10,563/€9,538) for the hospital during her walk, but hopes that this amount will increase with company and other contributions now that the walk has been completed. She will continue collecting donations for another month, up until her 17th birthday on August 28.

Donations to Eva Bryndís’ fund can be made via bank transfer:

0545-14-001153

Kt: 290802-2290

ICE-SAR Earns Over Half of Annual Revenue from Fireworks

Reykjavík Fireworks New Year's Eve

ICE-SAR earned around ISK 800 million ($6.8m/€6m), or up to 60% of its total annual revenue from New Year’s firework sales in 2017 and 2016, RÚV reports. ICE-SAR chairman Smári Sigurðsson says that this year’s fireworks sales figures are not yet available, and may indeed be somewhat lower than previous years, but it’s possible that sales from this year’s new seedlings initiative will make up for any drop-off in firework sales. Smári predicts that this year’s fundraiser will yield somewhere between ISK 700 and 800 million ($5.9-6.8m/€5.5-6m).

Figures for this year’s sales are not yet available as they will continue through January 6, or Þrettándinn, which marks the 13th and last day of Christmas in Iceland. Bonfires are held throughout the country and many people save their holiday fireworks for this day, which is the last legal day to set them off until the next Christmas season. The bonfires and fireworks are, metaphorically speaking, intended to “burn up Christmas” and mark the end of the festive season.

There’s been increasing concern over the pollution caused by the annual fireworks extravaganza in Iceland, and the resulting difficulties experienced, for instance, by people with respiratory problems. As such, the idea of selling seedlings to be planted in a grove outside Þorlákshöfn next summer had been “well-received,” said Smári, and ICE-SAR intends to continue the seedling sale next year and “…develop this partnership with the Icelandic Forest Service further.”

ICE-SAR is entirely funded by donations; it receives no government support. As such, the annual end-of-year fundraiser is particularly important to the organisation’s success for the rest of the year. However, that doesn’t mean that the organisation is dead-set on the continued sale of fireworks specifically.

“We’re not defending fireworks, per se, but we but we want to spend the profits on the work that needs to be done.”

Increased Pollution Will Follow Windless New Year’s

It’s looking like it will be a windless and dry New Year’s Eve in Iceland this year, RÚV reports. This is good news for merry-makers, but also means that there will be considerably high pollution levels from the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza.

The annual sale of fireworks, which is held to raise money for Iceland’s Search and Rescue teams, begins on Friday. This year, seedlings will also be on sale, so that those who want to skip the fireworks can donate to the teams by funding a seedling to be planted in a grove outside Þorlákshöfn next summer.

Last year, dry and windless conditions facilitated a great deal of air fireworks-related air pollution around New Year’s and those with severe asthma and/or respiratory conditions are advised to stay indoors over the holiday, or at the very least wear a mask when outdoors.

The Environment Agency of Iceland also maintains a website (available in Icelandic and English) on which it is possible to monitor ambient air quality around Iceland, which may also be of use to those who have pollution-related respiratory issues this time of year.

Seedlings and Fireworks to Fund Search-And-Rescue Teams

New Year's Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík, 2017.

Seedlings will be for sale alongside fireworks at the annual Search-and-Rescue team fireworks sale this year, to be planted next summer, RÚV reports. The project is intended as an answer for people who want to donate money to the ICE-SAR volunteers but don’t want to buy fireworks. The money raised by selling fireworks is one of the most important fundraising projects of the year for the ICE-SAR teams but increased awareness about airborne particle pollution has turned many off the idea of fireworks.

Jón Svanberg Hjartarson, CEO of Landsbjörg, states that the SAR teams count on the fireworks sale to raise funds. He told Morgunútvarpið radio hosts that every year, there are people who buy fireworks to donate to the Search-and-rescue teams but don’t take the fireworks home. Now, those who want to skip the fireworks can donate to the teams by funding a seedling to be planted in a grove outside Þorlákshöfn next summer. According to mbl.is, the idea came from Rakel Kristinsdóttir, who wrote her bachelor’s thesis on ICE-SAR funding. ICE-SAR also try to source fireworks that are less polluting and points out that a few years ago changes were made to how fireworks are made and the most dangerous chemicals were removed from the process.

Last New Year’s Eve, airborne particle pollution was high. Numerous lung patients seek care at the emergency room and health centres around the new year presenting symptoms related to airborne particle pollution. According to a letter from three experts to the Icelandic Medical Journal, doctors notice more severe symptoms in lung patients in January than in other months.  This is despite the fact that most lung patients take care to stay inside around the New Year. The pollution can get so severe that even healthy people experience symptoms in their respiratory systems.