Sit-In in Support of Palestine at Iceland’s Foreign Ministry

Sit-in for Palestine May 30, 2024 at Iceland's Foreign Ministry. Photo: Kata Jóhanness

A group of protesters has begun a sit-in at Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs due to Icelandic authorities’ lack of action on Palestine, RÚV reports. The group is not from a single organisation, rather is a diverse group of civilians who say they are fed up with Iceland’s lack of action and aim to disrupt business as usual until the government reacts. Their demands include that trade sanctions be imposed on Israel and that the Icelandic government sever diplomatic relations with the country.

“It’s been 234 days of an escalating genocide of Palestinian people and Icelandic authorities have done nothing to prevent it,” Salvör Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir, one of the protesters, told reporters. “The government has said that they want a ceasefire in Gaza and kept saying that they aim for peace and a two-state solution but those are all empty words and they are not followed by any actions.”

Protesters request meeting with minister

Salvör Gullbrá says that the recent attack of the Israeli army on Rafah where civilians were killed was the last straw. “A horrifying attack where people were burned alive.” Salvör says that the protest will continue until the government takes action. The group has asked for a meeting with Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and has not been granted meetings with any ministry staff at this point.

“It’s is very clear that the Icelandic public wants a ceasefire in Palestine and supports Palestinian people,” Salvör stated. “This is apparent in various surveys that have been conducted about the public’s dissatisfaction when Iceland abstained on a ceasefire vote last October.” Salvör also pointed to the controversy surrounding Iceland’s participation in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest on the same grounds.

Demand sanctions and coordinated action

The protester’s demands are as follows:

  1. That trade sanctions be imposed on the State of Israel.
  2. That Iceland sever diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
  3. That Iceland support South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
  4. That Minister for Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir initiate a discussion on coordinated actions with the Nordic countries, Ireland, and Spain.

Norway, Ireland, and Spain officially recognised the State of Palestine recently, an action Iceland was the first among Nordic countries to do so, in 2011. The Iceland-Palestine Association is echoing those first two demands in a protest to be held in outside the regular cabinet meeting tomorrow morning.

Palestinians No Longer Priority for Family Reunification

Palestine protest February 5 2024

On Monday, the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration decided that Palestinians will no longer be given priority in the application system for family reunifications. This decision was made in consultation with the Ministry of Justice.

Prioritisation was a "temporary measure"

Since mid-October, the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration has prioritised Palestinian citizens’ applications for family reunification. The decision was made after the Israeli army started attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Applications for family reunification from citizens of other origins were consequently pushed back in the queue.

Now, the Minister for Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, says that the priority of Palestinian applications was always meant to be a temporary measure and that the increase in waiting time for other applicants is no longer justifiable. 

Just last week72 Palestinians arrived in Iceland after representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted Icelandic residence permit holders in Gaza to leave with the approval of Egyptian and Israeli officials. These people were then escorted from the border town of Rafah into Egypt, from where they travelled to Iceland.

Many Palestinian applications still pending

When the decision was made, about 150 applications for family reunification from Palestinian citizens were pending in the Directorate of Immigration, half of which were older than six months. Since October, 160 residence permits based on family reunification have been granted for Palestinian refugees. 

Currently, 20 applications from Palestinian citizens are still being processed, while many more applications from Palestinians do not fall under the right to family reunification. Apart from this, about 320 citizens of other countries are waiting for the processing of their family reunification grants, mainly from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the protection of mass migration of Ukrainians was extended until February 2025. Minister for Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir says that Iceland made the decision to align with other European countries and the neighbouring Nordic countries. 

Who is eligible for a residence permit based on family reunification?

Residence permits based on family reunification can be granted to the closest relatives of a person residing in Iceland, who also has the right to family reunification

According to the Directorate of Immigration, closest relatives are spouses, cohabiting partners, children under the age of 18, and parents aged 67 and over. 

The right to family reunification is reserved for Icelandic citizens, Nordic citizens and foreign citizens with permanent residence permits. Holders of temporary residence permits obtain the right under certain circumstances, for instance, if they are under international protection, students or specialised workers.

Iceland and Israel Discuss Gaza Visa Holders

bjarni benediktsson

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had a phone meeting with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz yesterday, where the two discussed Icelandic visa holders in Gaza. Some 100 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly children, hold approved Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Bjarni requested assistance in processing the list of visa holders, according to a press release from the Icelandic government.

Government criticised for moving slowly

Iceland’s government has been criticised for moving slowly on extracting Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. An Icelandic lawyer representing one Palestinian family waiting for reunification has submitted a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman asserting that the government is responsible for the individuals on the basis of humanitarian law. In early February, Icelandic authorities sent three representatives to Cairo to look into bringing the visa-holders across the Rafah border, but their efforts have yet to bear fruit. Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilian volunteers have already gotten around 25 Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza.

Special examination needed, Foreign Ministry says

“The Icelandic government sent a list of residence permit holders to the authorities in the region in the first half of February,” the government press release states. “In communication with the Israeli government, it has been stated that the list is unique as there are no Icelandic citizens or dual citizens on it, only residence permit holders. The list therefore requires special examination on their part, and has therefore not yet been processed.”

Icelandic government ministers previously stated that Iceland has no obligation to extract Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. Ministers also stated that other Nordic countries were only extracting their own citizens from the region, not visa holders, a statement that proved to be false.

Iceland Suspends Palestine Relief Payments

bjarni benediktsson

Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs has suspended payments to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Opposition MPs criticise the decision, calling it “harsh.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appealed to countries who have suspended UNRWA payments to reconsider, saying: “The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

Allegations of participation in October 7 attacks

Founded in 1949, the UNRWA is the United Nations’ main agency supporting the relief and human development of Palestinian regufees in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. UNRWA runs shelters for the displaced and currently distributes the only aid that Israel is allowing into the Gaza strip.

Iceland has been working with UNRWA for decades. In September last year, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs signed a contract with the organisation for continued support until 2028.

Several Western countries have temporarily suspended financial support to UNRWA over allegations that some UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel. The staff members in question have already been fired from the organisation, which will also conduct an independent investigation into the matter.

Contrary to ruling from International Court of Justice

“It’s absolutely horrible that we’re taking part in this. And we should follow the Norwegians’ example, who have decided in light of the terrible situation in Gaza, to continue their funding while this investigation is ongoing,” Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir told RÚV.

“What is absolutely clear is a ruling from the highest court of the international community that humanitarian aid must come to Gaza,” Þórhildur Sunna continued. “And the Icelandic government’s first rection is to stop humanitarian aid to Gaza. It’s absolutely horrible.”

Social Democratic Alliance MP Logi Einarsson also criticised Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson’s decision to suspend the payments harsh. “Thirty thousand people work for the organisation, including 13,000 in Gaza and the investigation is on 12 individuals,” Logi stated. “It is therefore a very harsh reaction to punish millions of people in a complete humanitarian crisis and on the verge of starvation.”

Iceland News Review: Eruption Near Grindavík, Reykjavík’s New Mayor And More!

INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we go in-depth on last Sunday’s eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula and what this could mean for the people of Grindavík. Can they ever return and if not, where will they live? How will the government help them? There’s a lot of options on the table.

Also, Reykjavík has a new mayor with an historic twist; good news for Palestinian children in Iceland; one town stands out as having the highest per capita immigrant population; along with weather, road conditions, and much more!

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Deportation of Palestinian Children Suspended

Two Palestinian children who were set to be deported from Iceland will have their applications for international protection reviewed, RÚV reports. Last week, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board overturned the Directorate of Immigration’s decision to deport the two cousins, Yazan (14) and Sameer (12), who arrived in Iceland last April with their 30-year-old uncle. Their uncle is, however, set to be deported from Iceland.

A difficult wait

Hanna Símónardóttir, Yazan’s foster parent in Iceland, says the decision to review the boys’ applications is a big relief. “But it has only cast a shadow over the fact that their uncle, who accompanied them, and was their only true close relative who is definitely alive, was deported at the same time.” She says waiting for the ruling has been difficult and urges the Icelandic government to stop the deportation of Palestinian applicants and to carry out family reunifications that have already been approved.

Families in Gaza

The boys’ families are in Gaza, and while they wait for a decision on their asylum cases, they are not able to apply for family reunification visas for their family members, Hanna stated. “The boys are incredibly worried about their families,” she stated. “They haven’t heard from them in five days, and every day they don’t hear from them, those worries get bigger. And we all know that the people of Gaza are in concentration camps and every hour can make a difference, to try to help these people get out alive.”

Uncle to be deported in 30 days

The boys’ uncle Ahmed was informed by the Directorate of Immigration yesterday that he would be deported in 30 days and has been stripped of housing and services, including legal support. Hanna calls on the Icelandic authorities to speed up the processing of the boys’ applications, to stop the deportation of Palestinian applicants in Iceland, and to act on family reunification visas that have already been approved for family members in Gaza.

Protest camp outside Parliament

Other Palestinians in Iceland and their supporters have been protesting outside Parliament since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Pitch Tents Outside Parliament in Protest

No Borders Iceland / Facebook. Palestinian protesters camp outside Iceland's parliament

Local activists slept in tents in front of the Icelandic Parliament on Saturday night in solidarity with Palestinian protesters who have camped there since December 27. They criticise Icelandic authorities for not doing more to bring residents of Gaza who already hold Icelandic visas to the country.

“We won’t stop or back down until our demands are met,” Askur Hrafn Hannesson, one of the Icelandic activists who slept outside Parliament this weekend told RÚV. He says over 40 people joined the group of Palestinians who have been camping outside Alþingi for nearly two weeks.

Asking to be reunited with family members in Gaza

Most of the Palestinian protesters have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza. The group is calling on Icelandic authorities to do more to retrieve their family members from the strip, where over 30,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks since October 7 and conditions are life-threatening.

While Icelandic authorities say the Rafah border crossing between Palestine and Egypt is closed, a statement from the group of protestors points out that countries such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Sweden received refugees from Gaza in December.

Three demands to Icelandic authorities

The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Since October 7, protests and solidarity actions in support of Palestine have been held in Iceland regularly, with the next scheduled for tomorrow at 9:00 AM outside the cabinet meeting at Tjarnargata 32.