Sjón Withdraws from Literary Festival Due to PM’s Participation

Katrín Jakobs Svandís Svavars Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörns press conference

The Icelandic writer Sjón has announced his withdrawal from this year’s Iceland Noir Festival owing to the participation of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Writing on Twitter yesterday, Sjón cited “the cruel treatment of asylum seekers” by Katrín’s cabinet.

The darkest time of the year

Iceland Noir is a literary festival held in Reykjavík celebrating “darkness in all its forms.” Founded in 2013 by authors Ragnar Jónasson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Iceland Noir began as a celebration of crime fiction but has gradually evolved to welcome writers outside the genre while also including television and film screenings alongside panels.

This year’s festival will be held between November 16 and 19 and will be headlined by Bernardine Evaristo and Richard Osman alongside Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Other notable guests include First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid, English novelist Mark Billingham – and Icelandic writer Sjón.

Yesterday, however, Sjón announced that he was withdrawing from the festival due to the participation of PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir:

Controversial expulsion of asylum seekers

Sjón’s announcement follows on the heels of fifteen asylum seekers being deported from Iceland. Among those deported was a disabled Iraqi, in Iceland with a family of five, whose lawyer has told the media that he is preparing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

The treatment of the man inspired public outcry and a protest was held on Austurvöllur Square, in front of Parliament, at 5.15 PM yesterday. The protest was organised by No Borders Iceland and Solaris (an aid organisation providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in Iceland) and was “well attended” according to Vísir.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke to Vísir in response to the public outcry yesterday, maintaining that it was “only natural for people to become upset” whenever force was applied in cases such as these:

“But what we must look into, in particular – and I think that I speak for everyone – is the treatment of the disabled person, who was among those asylum seekers who were deported. It’s extremely important that we take great pains when it comes to vulnerable groups of people and that we ensure that his rights were fully respected.”

Isavia, Iceland’s national airport and air navigation service provider, apologised for hindering the work of photojournalists during the deportations at Keflavík Airport.

84 Venezuelans Granted Asylum in 2019

216 individuals were granted asylum by the Directorate of Immigration during the first nine months of 2019, RÚV reports. Venezuelans accounted for the most numerous applicants, or 84. Compared to last year, far fewer Albanians have applied for asylum this year.

The past three years have seen a steady decrease in asylum applications: 1,133 in 2016, 1,096 in 2017, and 800 in 2018. Compared to last year, however, the first nine months of this year saw a slight increase (621 applications). A total of 216 applications have been approved (some of which may have been submitted in 2018).

Like last year, Iraqi nationals were the most numerous applicants. Of the 110 Iraqis that applied, 28 were granted asylum. 42 Afghans have applied – approximately as many as last year – and 20 have been granted asylum. 38 Nigerians have applied – again, approximately as many as last year – but only two have been granted asylum. Albanians were the fifth most numerous applicants during the first nine months of 2019; three times as many Albanians had applied for asylum during the first nine months of 2018 (34 have applied this year).

The biggest change from last year, however, is the number of Venezuelans who have applied for asylum. Last year, 14 applied and 7 were granted asylum. This year, 84 Venezuelans have applied for asylum, every one of which has been granted.