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 News Review: Iceland much smaller than previously estimated

INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we report on some happy news, as more Palestinians have been rescued from Gaza with the help of ordinary Icelandic citizens. The news comes as Foreign Ministry officials from Iceland are currently in Cairo meeting with Egyptian officials on how to rescue the remaining one hundred or so Icelandic residence permit holders from Gaza.

Also, it turns out we overestimated our population – by about 14,000 people. How that happened and how that was fixed explained within. We’ve also got the latest on Grindavík, a tragic mystery in East Iceland, 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!

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2023 in Review: Nature

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

As the year draws to a close, Iceland Review brings you a summary of the biggest stories in community, culture, and nature in 2023. Here are some of the biggest nature-related stories from the year, which included two volcanic eruptions in Reykjanes.

Grindavík Evacuated

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. This was the first time since 1973 that an Icelandic town has been evacuated (or ever since the eruption on the Westman Islands). Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

Read More: Out of Harm´s Way (The Evacuation of Grindavík)

In early December, it appeared that magma had stopped flowing into the dike and experts believed that an eruption was less likely. However, they warned that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order was in effect, Grindavík residents were permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

Volcanic Eruption Near Sýlingarfell

On the night of December 18, following weeks of waning seismic activity, and with some Grindavík residents complaining about the evacuation orders remaining in effect, a powerful volcanic eruption began near the town of Grindavík and by Mt. Sýlingarfell. The eruption occurred along a 4 km long fissure and the magma flow was much greater when compared to the previous three eruptions that had occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula over the past three years. Construction workers rushed to fill in gaps in the protective barriers by the Svartsengi Power Station. Fortunately, the lava did not damage infrastructure, although it could have threatened the Grindavíkurvegur road if it had continued flowing.

The eruption was short-lived, fortunately, and by December 21, it appeared that volcanic activity had completely ceased.

On December 22, the authorities announced the lifting of the evacuation orders, starting December 23. A handful of residents chose to return and spend Christmas at home; however, many residents, contending that it was still not safe to stay in town, chose to remain in temporary housing outside of Grindavík. The government had previously announced that it would extend housing support throughout the winter for Grindavík residents (the government had also secured additional housing through rental companies).

With land uplift having continued near the Svartsengi Power Station, experts believe that further volcanic activity is likely in the future.

Eruption at Litli-Hrútur

Starting July 4, 2023, a significant increase in seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula led to over 12,000 earthquakes near the area where two volcanic eruptions had occurred in 2021 and 2022 respectively. This seismic activity eventually culminated in a powerful eruption on July 10 near Litli-Hrútur. The eruption was strong: ten times more lava flow than the previous two eruptions. The eruption initially featured multiple fissures extending over 1 km and a very high lava flow rate, but it soon settled into a single fissure with a steadily growing cone.

Read More: Live, Laugh, Lava (the Litli-Hrútur Eruption)

Given how dry it had been, the eruption set off multiple wildfires, which kept firefighters working around the clock. Once again, the eruption, which was relatively brief, proved highly popular among tourists; volcanic activity ceased on August 5.

Whaling Season Postponed

On June 20, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, announced that she would be postponing the start of the fin-whale hunting season until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report authored by a council of specialists on animal welfare, which found that the methods employed in the hunting of whales did not comply with the Act on Animal Welfare.

Read More: Sea Change (Has Iceland Seen Its Last Whaling Season?)

After much clamour from anti-whaling activists around the world, the Minister did not extend the temporary postponement of the whaling season, which commenced on September 6. The ships of Iceland´s only whaling company, Hvalur hf., were, however, subjected to increased surveillance and stricter regulations set by the Minister of Fisheries in September. Charges were pressed against two activists, who had climbed into the crow´s nests of two of Hvalur´s whaling vessels to protest.

Sea-Lice in Tálknafjörður, the Great Escape — More Controversy Surrounding Salmon Farming

On August 20, approximately 3,500 farm-raised salmon escaped through two holes on an open-pen fish farm operated by Arctic Fish in Patreksfjörður, a fjord in Iceland’s Westfjords. Arctic Fish had not inspected the condition of the pens for 95 days.

In September, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), confirmed that 26 farmed salmon traced to the escape in Patreksfjörður had been caught in several fishing rivers in West and North Iceland. By October, the Federation of Icelandic River Owners claimed that 344 farmed salmon had been captured in 46 different locations. In response to the escape, the Directorate of Fisheries announced that it would provisionally extend the angling season until mid-November to increase the chances of farmed salmon being caught (teams of Norwegian divers were dispatched to aid in the capture of the escaped fish).

Read More: Balancing the Scales (Do the Costs of Fish Farming in Iceland Outweigh the Benefits?)

On October 7, a protest against salmon farming in open-net pens was held on Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík. Less than a month later, Heimildin reported that at least one million salmon had perished or had been discarded due to an uncontrollable outbreak of sea lice in Tálknafjörður in the southern Westfjords. Speaking to Heimildin, Karl Steinar Óskarsson, Head of the Aquaculture Department at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), stated that “no one had seen a sea lice infestation spread like this before.”

New Climate Report Published

In September, a report titled “Climate Resilient Iceland” (i.e. Loftslagsþolið Ísland in Icelandic) was unveiled. Commissioned by the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, a steering committee produced the report to assess the necessary measures for society to adapt to climate change, emphasising that the impacts of climate change are already evident.

Read More: In Due Force (Unprecedented Mudslides)

According to the report, altered weather patterns, increased landslides, and heightened flood risks are among the challenges Icelanders will face in the coming years. When asked whether emphasising adaptation to climate change signified a form of resignation, Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir, Office Manager of Climate Services and Adaptation at the Icelandic Meteorological Office and a co-author of the report, replied, “Yes and no; this is the reality we are facing. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. Humans have always adapted to changing circumstances.”

 

Historical Relics Unearthed on Grímsey

While undertaking excavations in preparation of building a new church on Grímsey, archeologists unearthed relics that indicate humans inhabited the island since shortly after the settlement of Iceland in 870.

The island’s church burned to the ground in September 2021, and plans were underway to erect the new church on the same footprint. However, the unexpected historical findings on the site mean the new church will be built on another plot of land, just four metres to the east.

Among the initial findings on the site of the old church building are the remnants of a church dating to the year 1300, including the cemetery wall of the oldest known church on Grímsey, and graves.

“When this was discovered, it was decided to move the (new) church to protect these graves,” archeologist Hildur Gestsdóttir told RÚV.

The old church

The church that burned down was named Miðgarðakirkja, and was built out of driftwood in 1867. In 1932, it was moved further away from the neighbouring farm due to risk of fire and a tower and choir loft were built on to the structure. The church underwent extensive renovations in 1956 and was reconsecrated that year. The renovation included wood carvings made by Deacon Einar Einarsson both on the outside and inside of the building. Miðgarðakirkja was protected in 1990.

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.

First State Visit to Greenland in 24 years

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir embarked this week on the first official visit of an Icelandic leader to Greenland since 1998. She was in Nuuk at the invitation of Greenlandic Prime Minister Múte B. Egede.

The two leaders discussed opportunities for increased cooperation between Iceland and Greenland. Specific points of focus were a free trade agreement, fisheries and tourism, education and research, equality and energy and the climate crisis. Another meeting is already in the works for later this year to continue to build on the ideas presented this week.

During her visit, Katrín also met with Greenland’s Minister of Finance Naaju Nathanielsen to discuss the state of the countries respective economies. She also paid a visit to the Greenlandic Parliament, the National Museum of Greenland, the University of Nuuk, and met with Greenlandic women from the from politics, business, culture and the university to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face and parallels between Iceland and Greenland.

Independent Media Bill Passed in Icelandic Parliament

Parliament press media journalist photographers

The Icelandic parliament passed a bill yesterday that will provide financial support to independent media companies, Vísir reports. Through the legislation, the state will grant up to ISK 400 million ($3.3 million/€2.7 million) to privately-owned media companies, which can apply for up to 25% reimbursement of eligible expenses: salary costs and payments to contractors working on collecting and disseminating news.

Thirty-four MPs voted in favour of the bill, while 11 voted against it and 12 abstained. The bill was introduced by Culture Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. All members of her party (the Progressive Party) voted in support of the bill, as did all Left-Green Movement MPs and all Social-Democratic Alliance MPs that were present for the vote. All MPs of the Centre Party voted against the bill as did one member of the Independence Party, former Justice Minister Sigríður Andersen, and one member of the People’s Party. Three members of the Independence Party and other members of the People’s Party abstained from the vote, as did all MPs in the Reform Party and Pirate Party.

The legislation is a temporary initiative: it provides grants to independent Icelandic media companies this year and next year. Parliament passed similar legislation last year to establish a fund to help independent media companies address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some journalists have argued that such funding is biased toward Iceland’s largest media companies at the expense of smaller, local media.

Iceland’s ranking fell in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which stated that Iceland’s media system was becoming increasingly less viable. The index report pointed to lack of funding as the media system’s main problem.

90-Year Anniversary of Iceland’s First Radio News Broadcast

Radios

Yesterday evening marked 90 years since the first radio news broadcast in Iceland, RÚV reports. Today marks the 90-year anniversary of the first full day of radio programming in Iceland, broadcast by Iceland’s national broadcaster RÚV. The first news story ever broadcast, on December 20, 1930, covered the global depression. The following day was a Sunday, and the radio programming featured two church services, as well as music, children’s stories, more news, and – of course – weather.

The arrival of radio in 1930 was revolutionary for Iceland’s small, dispersed population. Today the medium remains important in Icelandic culture and daily life. For example, many Icelanders consider the official start of Christmas to be the sound of bells ringing on the radio at 6.00pm on December 24.

To learn more about the radio’s history and significance in Iceland, read our story A Window to the World: How the Radio Led Iceland Into Nationhood.

Government to Increase Support for Independent Media

A bill on amendments to the Media Act proposes still greater financial support for private media companies than the media act bill introduced nearly one year ago. While the previous bill suggested eligible companies could receive a grant for up to 18% of their operating costs, the new bill suggests the grants could amount to up to 25% of those costs.

The bill defines a private media company as one “that is neither wholly, nor in part, owned by the state, municipalities, institutions, or companies in their ownership.” The financial help is intended to support news collection and dissemination and coverage of social issues. To be eligible for government support, a private media company must have at least three employees working full-time on creating and disseminating material. Local media companies (covering a specific region or neighbourhood, for example) must have at least one full-time staff member doing such work.

There are other requirements for a media company to be eligible for support through the initiative. The company must have submitted annual reports to the Media Committee and have paid its public fees in full. Its employees’ salaries and working conditions must be in accordance with collective agreements and laws.

Read More: Icelandic Government Launches Fund to Support Private Media Companies

The grants may be used toward direct wage costs of journalists, editors, assistant editors, cameramen, photographers, and proofreaders, as well as contractors in such positions.

As elsewhere in the world, Icelandic media companies are facing a challenging operational environment. One of the country’s largest papers, Morgunblaðiðlaid off 15 employees late last year, following exponentially growing losses over the past three years. Icelandic journalists organised worker strikes last year when wage negotiations came to a standstill.

Cuts to Iceland’s Healthcare and Journalism “Dangerous” During Pandemic

Iceland National Hospital COVID-19

While Iceland’s government has increased investment in some areas to combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of its key institutions are facing cuts. These include the National University Hospital and national broadcaster RÚV. Cuts at both institutions have been criticised as “dangerous” by MPs and interest groups. RÚV reported first.

Hospital Cuts to Affect Service

RÚV reported last week that next year’s government budget demands the National University Hospital cut costs by ISK 4.3 billion ($31.7 million/€26.7 million). The hospital has operated at a loss over the last several years, and has a cumulative deficit of ISK 3.8 billion ($28 million/€23.6 million). The hospital’s administration has requested that the cuts be spread over a three-year period, but that would still require the institution to cut operating costs by ISK 1.4 billion ($10.3 million/€8.7 million) next year.

MP Logi Einarsson, who is chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance, expressed his opposition to cuts to the hospital, saying “it is dangerous to impose strict austerity and streamlining demands on healthcare in the middle of a pandemic and the Parliament needs to change this.” According to Logi, the cuts would make it difficult for the National University Hospital to fulfil its role as the country’s main hospital and to cut down existing waiting lists for surgeries and other procedures.

A subsequent press release from the government stated that RÚV’s figure was incorrect, and the cuts required of the hospital next year will amount to ISK 400 million ($2.95 million/€2.49 million). “On the other hand, the hospital will receive ISK 1.3 billion to address the growth in population and the increase in the relative number of elderly people, as well as additional funding to address salary and price hikes. It is also clear that Landspítali will be compensated for increased expenses due to the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Journalists Let Go at RÚV

The hospital is not the only government-funded institution facing cuts in Iceland. National broadcaster RÚV will lay off around one fifth of the journalists in its news department due to reduced funding and some of the layoffs have already taken effect. The Society of Broadcast Journalists (the union for broadcast journalists who work at RÚV) has criticised the cuts. A statement from the institution reads, in part: “When the media’s ability to engage in critical journalism is reduced, there is a risk that the public’s access to accurate and clear information will be reduced. This is especially dangerous in times where misinformation is rampant.”

The statement goes on to say that those who have been let go are “high-quality journalists, including an employee with more than a quarter of a century of service at the agency.” This employee is one of several that is in an ongoing dispute with RÚV concerning overtime pay. In its statement, the Society of Broadcast Journalists questions the decision to let the employee go before the issue has been resolved.

This article has been updated to include the government’s response to RÚV’s original story on cuts to hospital services.

Icelandair: Boeing-737 MAX Not Expected to Return This Summer

Icelandair Boeing 737 MAX

In a press release yesterday, Icelandair stated that it did not expect the return of its Boeing-737 MAX planes this summer (the MAX planes were expected to return to service in February). The statement follows recent news from Boeing regarding ongoing cooperation with international aviation authorities to ensure the aircraft’s safe return to service. Icelandair Group, owner and holding company of the airline, also aims to seek further compensation for the grounding of the MAX planes.

In a press release from Icelandair yesterday, the airline stated that it does not expect the return of its Boeing-737 MAX planes this summer. Icelandair expects the continued delay to have a “minimal impact,” considering that the company had designed the 2020 flight schedule with the possibility of further delay in the lifting of the MAX suspension:

“The financial impact of this further suspension will be considerably less this year than in 2019. In addition to the above-mentioned mitigating measures [,] the current leasing agreements were made further in advance than in the year 2019 and are[,] therefore[,] on better terms. The additional aircraft will also be operated with Icelandair crews instead of external crews last year that were leased [on] short notice. The company has[,] therefore[,] been able to organise its operations in 2020 with this possible scenario in mind.”

The press release adds that Icelandair will continue to emphasise the tourism market to Iceland. The company expects to transport at least as many passengers to Iceland this year as in 2019.

As previously reported, Icelandair Group has reached two interim agreements with Boeing regarding compensation for the company’s financial loss resulting from the MAX suspension. “Continued discussions with Boeing regarding further compensation are ongoing,” the press release states.