72 Palestinian Visa Holders En Route

bjarni benediktsson

Late last night, 72  Palestinian people crossed the border from Gaza to Egypt on request from Icelandic authorities. All of them have Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has announced that they will travel to Iceland, Heimildin reports.

Criticism over inaction

The Icelandic government has faced criticism due to the delay in extracting these individuals from Gaza, which has seen military action from the Israeli army for months. Icelandic volunteers have already been able to bring a number of people across the border to safety without help from the authorities.

Last weekend, Israeli authorities approved the list of names submitted by Icelandic authorities, according to a press release from the ministry. Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson communicated with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz last Tuesday on this subject.

A policy exception

“This case has relied on the process speed and position of local authorities and the Icelandic delegation can only operated on the grounds of the legal, diplomatic processes that Israeli and Egyptian authorities have put in place for these cases,” the press release read.

Authorities maintain that they had no duty to step in to support the visa holders, even if they did so in this case. Bjarni added that the government is pushing to reform immigration policy to ensure that exceptions like these don’t put “additional pressure on Icelandic systems”.

Iceland’s Parliament Grants Palestinian Girl Citizenship

Alþingi parliament of Iceland

A 17-year-old girl from Gaza says she’s grateful to the Icelandic Parliament for granting her Icelandic citizenship last week, RÚV reports. Asil Al Masri is currently in hospital in Egypt, recovering from injuries sustained in an Israeli attack that killed several of her family members and injured others. Asil looks forward to reuniting with her brother who lives in Iceland.

One of Alþingi’s last tasks before a holiday recess last week was to grant 20 people Icelandic citizenship by parliamentary decree. Seventeen-year-old Asil was within the group. She lost her mother, sister, and five-year-old nephew in an Israeli army attack on October 17, which also injured several more of her relatives. A short time later, Asil’s father died in hospital. Asil herself was also seriously injured in the attack, leading to her leg being amputated above the knee. After the amputation, she was transferred to a hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

Asil has therefore lost her home and all of her immediate family besides her brother Suleiman who lives in Iceland. It’s thanks to Suleiman’s efforts and supporters in Iceland that Asil is now officially an Icelander.

Wants to thank the Icelandic people

Speaking to RÚV reporters via video call from Cairo, Asil stated her condition was improving and she expected to be “in perfect health” by the time she reached her new home. Asked what her plans were once she reached Iceland, Asil stated “At first I want to meet every Icelander that helped me, that spent time and effort to reach my case to the Icelandic government.” Then she added: “After finishing my treatment, I want to start to study the Icelandic language to continue my studies.”

In the longer term, Asil stated that she wants to “give back to the Icelandic community and enter the labour market so I can help with the renaissance and the development of Iceland.”

She also asked to convey a message to those who helped her gain Icelandic citizenship. “I would like to thank the Icelandic Members of Parliament, the Icelandic people, and all the humanitarian associations and institutions that understood my humanitarian situation.”

Hussein Left Iceland with Family

directorate of immigration iceland

Hussein Hussein, an asylum seeker from Iraq who uses a wheelchair, decided to accompany his family back to Greece, Vísir reports. 

They left voluntarily for Greece on Saturday, December 2.

Hussein’s Stay in Iceland Extended, Family to be Deported Tomorrow

The European Court of Human Rights had previously ruled that his family may be deported from Iceland, but not Hussein.

Hussein has stated previously that he would not be able to live without his family in Iceland, as he relies on them for support and essential care. Upon the European Court of Human Rights ruling, he stated that he faced an impossible choice, as conditions in Greece are unfit for asylum seekers with disabilities.

Gerður Helgadóttir, a friend of the family, stated to Vísir: “He doesn’t speak anything except Arabic, so he needs to have Arabic speaking people around him. His situation here was just too unclear when he considered staying. His family is everything to him. They care for him, and he needs assistance all day long. It’s a horrible situation the family was placed in, and terrible to send his family away from him. I don’t know what kind of treatment this is for disabled people.”

Gerður reportedly spoke with the family since their arrival in Greece. She stated to Vísir that they are currently looking for accomodation there.

Gerður continued: “It sounds terrible […] They are short on money and this is a very bad situation for them. We are talking about people who were working in Iceland and could have easily taken care of themselves. It’s just so cruel, one really just doesn’t have the words.”

Welfare Committee Rejects Request for PM to Appear

refugee protest austurvöllur

The majority of the Welfare Committee has rejected the request for the Prime Minister to be summoned before the committee to discuss the provision of services to asylum seekers, as it does not fall under the Prime Minister’s purview. RÚV reports.

New immigration laws came into effect in July, which, among other things, involve discontinuing services for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Dozens of individuals have received such notifications, and there is a debate about whether the state or local authorities bear responsibility for these individuals.

Read more: Authorities Dispute Over Asylum Seekers in Iceland

The minority in the Welfare Committee has called for an open committee meeting, inviting the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Social Affairs, and the Prime Minister to attend. However, the majority refuses to summon the Prime Minister before the committee, with the committee’s chair, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, stating that there are no grounds for it, as the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Social Affairs and the Minister of Justice. Members of the Pirate Party have objected to this interpretation, with Pirate MP Arndís Anna K. Gunnarsdóttir pointing out that the Prime Minister has a coordinating role in the government that is relevant to the situation at hand. According to the MP, due to the current disagreement that exists regarding the interpretation of the law, it is crucial to summon the Prime Minister before the committee.

asylum seekers iceland
Protest on Austurvöllur, October 9. Golli.

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs have also discussed recently whether “closed housing facilities,” can be used in the case of rejected asylum applications. Such facilities would restrict the movement of asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected prior to their deportation from the country.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, stated to RÚV that closed housing facilities cannot solve the problem that has arisen due to people who have received a final denial of international protection: “Regardless of what we may think of closed housing facilities, they are simply not a viable solution because they have no legal basis, and they cannot, of course, address the problem faced by people who have been expelled from the service. It is just a fact that these people have no place to seek protection. I am just ensuring assistance to these people; I took the initiative, and others have not done so.”

Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has however stated: “I see no other solution than to have closed housing facilities. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need what the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment is suggesting. Such people need to leave the country, and it’s remarkable that solutions are being proposed for people who are breaking the law.”

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In Focus: Asylum Seeker Evictions

asylum iceland

New legislation on immigration passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring states that asylum seekers whose asylum applications have received a final rejection will be stripped of essential services unless they consent to deportation. As a result, dozens of asylum seekers unable to leave the country for reasons personal or political are being stripped of housing […]

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Debate Whether State or Municipalities Responsible for Rejected Applications

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

A deadlock has arisen in the cases of a group of applicants for international protection under the new immigration laws. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has publicly called for the matter to be clarified, with Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir stating that the law is quite clear: municipalities bear no responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers. RÚV reports.

Normally, individuals who have received a final rejection for protection have 30 days to leave the country. At the end of that period, they lose all services. But recently, a debate has begun centred around who should take responsible for this group of people, whether the municipalities or the state.

A need for clarity

The Minister of Social Affairs has recently stated that the municipalities should handle this group, but the municipalities argue that it’s the responsibility of the state. This debate has caused Prime Minister Katrín to weigh in on the matter, stating “Naturally, it cannot be expected that full services will be provided here when the administrative process in the protection system is completed, and the denial does not occur at just one but two administrative levels.”

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that there is a disagreement about the interpretation of the laws, and it’s important to resolve it. The matter was discussed at a cabinet meeting this morning.

The current debate is part of a long-standing discussion about the treatment and legal rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Iceland. Some in government have also looked to Nordic peers for possible solutions. Some Nordic countries limit services in stages in so-called departure facilities. On such facilities, Katrín stated: “It’s not an idea that I necessarily find appealing, but it’s evident that an explanation is needed about what comes next.”

Asylum seekers “responsible for themselves”

However, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has stated that the matter is quite clear legally. She says that the ultimate responsibility lies with the individuals who have come to this country and applied for protection.

“This group of people has undergone a two-stage administrative process, involving the Immigration Agency and the Immigration Appeals Board. The conditions that have been set as a basis have not been met,” she stated recently. “Their cases have been concluded, and a decision has been reached. The decision is that these individuals have not been granted protection in Iceland. Therefore, they cannot stay, and they should leave the country.

The Ministry of Justice believes furthermore that municipalities are not responsible for this group: “I emphasize that if municipalities wish to have a different approach, they can do so. The laws are clear, however. People must leave the country 30 days after receiving a rejection for protection.”

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Controversial Immigration Bill Back on Parliamentary Agenda

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

After an agreement to shelve further discussion of Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s immigration bill until after Christmas, parliament has once again taken up the bill for discussion.

Discussions of the bill are expected to last for some time, as the bill has previously been the object of much parliamentary debate. This last fall, the bill was presented and discussed for the fifth time in parliament.

The bill aims to shore up what the minister perceives as holes in Iceland’s immigration laws that are open to exploitation. In a statement to Morgunblaðið in October of last year, the minister said: “There are serious concerns within the Schengen area that the refugee system is being abused. In fact, it is more than a concern: we have knowledge of this.” Among other changes, the new legislation would introduce stricter border controls and more restrictions to movement for asylum seekers.

The bill has drawn criticism since its inception, and several organisations have called on the government to withdraw the legislation, including many youth organisations throughout Iceland. Several notable advocacy groups in Iceland, including the Red Cross and Amnesty International, have made critical comments about the proposed legislation. Student groups could be seen outside parliament on Monday, January 23, protesting the bill.

Now, in the revived debate around the bill, the Pirate Party attempted unsuccessfully to dismiss the bill from the parliamentary agenda. In a statement to RÚV, Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir said: “Considering the situation in our society, we find it unjust that the governing majority here in parliament wants to prioritize this issue. There is a state of emergency in the health care system, in addition to a cost of living crisis, which Icelandic households are feeling.”

Much of the debate around the bill revolves around article 8 of the new bill and its suggested changes to the so-called “12-month rule.” Certain loopholes in the bill could, for instance, deny children their right to have their case heard if their parent or guardian violates the conditions of their visa. Critics state that this denies essential rights to children, and fear the bill may be abused in its current form.

Reykjanesbær to Accept 350 Refugees

refugees iceland

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Market, Kjartan Már Kjartansson, Mayor of Reykjanesbær, and Nichole Leigh Mosty, Director of the Multicultural Center, have signed an agreement to accept 350 refugees in Reykjanesbær.

Together with PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir and representatives from the municipal council, they worked to coordinate a plan for accommodating a number of refugees in the coming year, in line with several other recent agreements in Reykjavík, Árborg, and Akureyri.

See also: Reykjavík Commits to Accepting 1,500 Refugees Next Year 

The agreement was signed Monday, January 9, at Reykjanesbær town hall.

The agreement will apply to people who have received asylum status or residence permits on the grounds of humanitarian reasons. The goal of the agreement is to ensure a standardized reception of refugees across municipalities.

Kjartan Már Kjartansson, mayor of Reykjanesbær,  said in a statement: “There is a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience in these matters in Reykjanesbær, which is important to continue using. Reykjanesbær is ready to share this knowledge with all the municipalities that plan to participate in this important project. In light of the new emphasis and the increased cooperation between the state and municipalities on the coordinated reception of refugees, it was decided to formalize a new agreement between Reykjanesbær and the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Reykjanesbær encourages all municipalities to show social responsibility and take part in welcoming displaced people.”

Reykjanesbær has been working in coordination with national authorities for many years on accepting refugees, in addition to participating in a pilot project for the standardized reception of refugees.

Also discussed was a framework for accepting unaccompanied children, the amount of which has grown in recent years.

 

 

Art Auction Raises Over a Million to Support Refugee Children

The Association Réttindi barna á flótta, or Rights of Displaced Children, raised ISK 1.082 million [$7,642; €7,209] at an art auction at Iðnó on Saturday, mbl.is reports. Local children also did their part by selling their own artwork and Christmas cards during the auction and raised ISK 36,000 [$254; €239] for the cause.

Homecoming, Úlfur Karlsson (via Réttur barna á flótta)

“We reached our goal, which was to cover the bills that we already owe in connection with the help we’ve been providing children of late,” said co-founder Esther Þorvaldsdóttir.

Saturday’s weather discouraged the happenstance foot traffic that the auction might have otherwise enjoyed given the venue’s central location, but there was still a fair turnout from local art collectors who’d been hoping to add to their collections. A group of tourists were also invited in to come in, enjoy the art, and warm themselves from the cold.

Krasý (hat), GAGA SKORRDAL (via Réttur barna á flótta)

The auction included musical performances from Sigríður Thorlacius and Guðmundur Óskar, as well as author and artist Hallgrímur Helgason’s recitation of a poem he wrote for the occasion. Hallgrímur was also among the artists whose work was sold at the auction.

The system and life, Hallgrímur Helgason (via Réttur barna á flotta)

Úlfur Karlsson, Sunna Ben, GAGA SKORRDAL, Hugleikur Dagsson, Þrándur Þórarinsson, Þorvaldur Jónsson, and Lu Hong also offered work for auction. There was also an original Pippi Longstocking drawing that artist Marit Törnqvist originally made for author Astrid Lindgren.

Pippi Longstocking, Marit Törnquist for Astrid Lindgren (via Réttur barna á flótta)

Not all of the artworks on offer sold at the auction, so any would-be art collectors who want to support a good cause can still make a bid on the organization’s art auction website.

Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Win Case

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The District Court of Reykjavík has decided that the November deportation of Hussein Hussein and his family was illegal. Now, following the decision, Hussein and his family are back in Iceland after they were deported to Greece.

In a statement from Albert Björn Lúðvíksson, a lawyer at Claudia & Partners law firm, the firm representing the refugee family, the “legal basis for the deportation was not justified.” Additionally, he stated that: “the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board judged their case to have been overdue. This remains unproven, and even if true, it is insignificant, as the Icelandic State stills bears responsibility for the procedure and any delays that have occurred.”

Read more: Protests in Wake of Deportations

Hussein Hussein is a refugee from Iraq who uses a wheelchair. His deportation in November of this year caused widespread outrage when footage surfaced on social media of authorities forcefully removing him from his wheelchair. The incident also caused controversy, as airport authorities attempted to suppress media coverage of the deportations.

At the time of the deportation, many expressed concern that Greece lacked facilities and resources for refugees with disabilities.

Although Hussein and his family have won their suit against the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, it is still possible for state representatives to appeal the case to the Court of Appeals. At this time, state representatives have made no comments with regard to this possibility.

Claudia Wilson, the family’s lawyer, has stated that the family arrived in Iceland over the weekend.

In statements to RÚV, the family has thanked everyone who has helped them so far in the case. They state that Hussein’s sisters intend to be back in school as soon as possible.