Fifty Syrian Refugees to Settle in Northwest Iceland

Blönduós

Fifty Syrian refugees will be resettled in the Northwest Iceland towns of Blönduós and Hvammstangi, RÚV reports. Blönduós mayor Valdimar O. Hermannsson says that the town is still working on securing housing for the arriving residents, but that there is no doubt that they will be welcomed in their new home.

Both Blönduós and the district of Húnaþing vestri, where the village of Hvammstangi is located, received a request from the Ministry for Social Affairs to consider receiving Syrian refugees who have been living in camps in Lebanon. The mayor of Húnaþing vestri agreed to the request on behalf of the district before Christmas; roughly 200 people attended an informational meeting about the resettlement last week. Blönduós also agreed to the resettlement. The plan is for 25 people to be settled in each place around the end of April.

Blönduós mayor Valdimar O. Hermannsson says that most of the people who will be resettled in his town are families, most of which have one to three children. The next step, he says, will be to organize the new residents’ reception—to find ‘support families,’ to make school arrangements for the children, organize social services, and secure housing.

The population of Blönduós has grown rapidly of late, meaning that there is not much in the way of currently vacant housing, although there is a lot of housing construction underway. One option under consideration is to look to the nearby town of Skagaströnd. “There could be housing there and we share school and social services,” says Valdimar. “The biggest hurdle is finding housing in both the short and the long-term.”

Even with these challenges, however, Valdimar says he has no doubt that the new residents will be well-received. “There’s actually a big community of foreigners, such as Poles and others, who have lived here for varying lengths of time. It’s just a project we have to tackle and we have no doubt that residents will whole-heartedly support [that project].”

Vatnsnesvegur Road in Extremely Poor Condition

2018 Vatnsnesvegur, A screenshot from RÚV

Residents of the Vatnsnes area near Hvammstangi in Northwest Iceland have had enough when it comes to Vatnsnesvegur road, RÚV reports. Road 711 is in such extremely poor condition that local parents have requested a permit to homeschool their children. The closest school is in Hvammstangi, an arduous two-hour trip away.

Vatnsnesvegur road is a gravel road which has deteriorated severely in recent years. The road is full of potholes which handle both cars and passengers badly. Residents in Húnaþing Vestra district have repeatedly called for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration to repair the road, but those pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Painful travels

Children travelling to school have complained of the conditions, as the cars pass slowly and painfully through the almost destroyed road. Children arrive at their destination in discomfort after the trip according to Þorbjörg Inga Ásbjarnardóttir, a local resident. Some have thrown up en route due to the conditions in the car, while the noise levels in the car are also considerably above noise limits while the school bus traverses the holes. Noise levels have been measured up to 109 Db, as well as an average noise of 98 Db in parts of the road. Noises exceeding 95 Db are considered to be at a dangerous noise level.

The trip takes up to 136 minutes per day in total for children commuting to school via the school bus. In recent times, the total travel time has increased by 20 minutes per day due to the poor condition of the road, as the car trots along the road at a slow, bobbling pace.

Hvítserkur attracts

The road is not only used by local residents, as the tourist attraction Hvítserkur is also accessed by Vatnsnesvegur road. Hvítserkur is a rock formation popular with tourists which doubles as a seal watching site. Residents have repeatedly had to assist travellers in trouble, and in some cases, the travellers had sustained serious injuries due to the road’s condition. The road is ill-traversed by ambulances and provides severe discomfort to an injured person. Numerous cars have overturned in recent years, and a Czech traveller lost her life in 2004.

Homeschooling an option?

Parents have called for a permit to home-school their children for pay, to avoid the discomfort of the arduous journey. The local council has denied the request based on strict regulations which require parents to have certain qualifications in order to be able to homeschool their children. However, the local council will not stop parents from keeping their children at home for one day of the week, according to Guðný Hrund Karlsdóttir, director of the local council. This informal permit will last until the road has been repaired.

The Minister of Transport recently held a meeting with local residents to discuss the road. Aforementioned local resident Þorbjörg states that, even though the meeting was a relative success, it did not reinforce local residents’ belief that it will be repaired any time soon. It’s clear to her that the road is far from a priority, even though most residents show authorities a certain understanding.

The matter was discussed recently in a council meeting with local residents.

Focus on locals, not travellers

Þorbjörg is afraid that authorities will only focus on repairing the part of the road which leads to the tourist attraction Hvítserkur. “I believe that, if repairs are made, they should focus on those places which children are driven to school on a daily basis and have no alternative,” Þorbjörg stated. She continued, “For example the area from Hvítserkur to Route One, as it seems that they are focusing on the areas where tourists are. But I don’t feel sorry for the driving travellers. It’s a choice for them, and they might go there once in their lifetime.” The children, however, have no choice and Þorbjörg doubts that a new road will be ready before her children reach secondary school age. “There are also small children in the area, not yet one year old, and of course it’s important. They have the whole of their schooling left, but it’s important for everybody else in the area as well,” Þorbjörg commented.