Asylum Applications at a Seven-Year High

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland are the highest they’ve been since November 2016, RÚV reports. The resulting stress on the police, the border, and the immigration processing system is such that the National Commissioner of Police may raise the border response plan’s preparedness level to Alert Phase.

Such were among the findings of a status report that the office of the National Commissioner released this week regarding overload at the Icelandic border and the possible activation of an emergency response plan to better deal with the influx of asylum applications.

According to the report, 182 individuals from 15 different countries applied for asylum in Iceland in February. Most of these applicants are from Venezuela; 20 are from Palestine. There are 96 total asylum cases under consideration, 25 of which include children—some of whom have traveled alone, without any adult family members.

Of the 182 applicants, 132 individuals have a “no hit” status in the EURODAC biometric database. EURODAC facilitates “the application of the Dublin Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for the assessment of an asylum claim presented in the European Union and the Associated Dublin States (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).” Under this system, participating states must take and record the fingerprints of any asylum seeker over the age of 14. So if an asylum seeker is “no hit” in Iceland, it means that Iceland is the first participating country they’ve entered and their application is supposed to be reviewed there.

Due to the high number of applications last month, not all of February’s asylum seekers have been fingerprinted or photographed yet. The report notes that in the final few days of last month, asylum seekers had to stand in line for hours at Bæjarhraun 18, where both the Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL) and a police station are located. ÚTL has requested additional equipment so that they will be able to take fingerprints and photographs at two different stations going forward. The equipment is expected to arrive in the coming days.

ÚTL has also rented out three hotels in the capital area to accommodate asylum seekers who are waiting to have their cases reviewed. It is expected that these will be filled to capacity within the next few days, which means that additional accommodations will be needed. If additional staff people is not provided to assist in the review of asylum cases, it is expected that the wait times on these applications will be long.

Sigríður Björk Named National Police Commissioner

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has named Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir the National Police Commissioner of Iceland, effective March 16, Kjarninn reports. Sigríður has been Chief of Police in the capital area since 2014 and is the first woman to serve in that office.

The Office of the National Commissioner of Police began operations in 1997. Haraldur Johannessen held the office of National Police Commissioner for 22 years, until stepping down last year after rising tensions in the police force led to eight out of nine police commissioners in the country declared a vote of no confidence in Haraldur’s leadership. Kjartan Þorkelsson, Chief of Police of South Iceland, temporarily replaced Haraldur while the Minister of Justice began seeking applications for a permanent replacement in the position.

Prior to assuming the position of police chief in the capital, Sigríður was chief of the Suðurnes Police in South Iceland and acted as assistant police commissioner from 2007 to 2008. She’s also worked in other regions of the country: she was sheriff of Ísafjörður from 2002 to 2006 and chief tax inspector in the Westfjords from 1996 to 2002.

New Police Council to be Inaugurated on January 1

Áslaug Arna

A new Police Council under the chairmanship of the National Commissioner of the Police will begin operations on January 1 next year, RÚV reports. The new council was introduced by Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir at the Minister’s residence in Reykjavík yesterday.

Kjartan Þorkelsson, Chief of Police of South Iceland, will temporarily replace Haraldur Johannessen as the National Commissioner of the Police at the start of the new year. Haraldur, who has occupied the position for 22 years, has negotiated the terms of his departure with Áslaug Arna and will initially assume an advisory role for the Ministry of Justice.

An Official Forum for Cooperation

The Police Council will serve as an official forum for Iceland’s police chiefs, aiming to increase cooperation between regional police chiefs and to contribute to more efficient use of funds. The council also aims to ensure police authorities better fulfil their duties to the public.

The Police Council will not exercise independent authority nor make policy decisions. The National Commissioner of the Police will continue to direct law-enforcement matters on behalf of the Minister of Justice but will consult with the Police Council regarding any significant decisions.

Soon to be Advertised

In her speech yesterday, Áslaug Arna stated that the office of the National Commissioner of the Police will be advertised soon. Acting Commissioner Kjartan Þorkelsson has revealed that he will not be applying for the office.

The current organisation of police districts in Iceland was signed into law on December 4, 2014, by then Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. Áslaug Arna stated that the present moment was an auspicious time to rethink the organisation. Haraldur Johannesson’s role as National Commissioner has proved controversial of late, with many police officers and regional police chiefs expressing dissatisfaction with Haraldur’s actions in office.

A Lack of Cooperation

“Over the past few weeks we have reviewed the system in its entirety,” Áslaug Arna stated, adding that the new organisational changes aim to make police authorities operate better as a unified whole. Matters of dispute that she personally reviewed all share one thing in common: lack of cooperation between police districts.

In her speech, Áslaug Arna added that while many police-related affairs call for localised solutions, others require a more comprehensive review, which the National Commissioner and the Police Council will oversee. The council aims to prevent needless repetition, to reduce redundancy, and to transfer endemic police assignments to specialised units.

The Minister of Justice is also considering other changes, including a possible merger of regional police districts.