‘Receiving refugees in Iceland is important to us as a society’

The refugees who have been resettled in Akureyri, North Iceland are, by and large, adjusting very well to their new home, RÚV reports. The town resettled 28 individuals from Syria between 2016-17 and has received 20 more Syrians and five refugees from Afghanistan since the fall. Now, with further resettlements on the horizon, director of Akureyri’s social services Anna Marit Níelsdóttir says it’s important to review the town’s agreement with the government and its reception and resettlement framework so as to ensure that new arrivals have the tools they need to be productive members of Icelandic society.

Most of the refugees who have recently settled in Akureyri arrived in Iceland independently, rather than being resettled as part of the government’s quota agreements. Regardless of how refugees arrive in Iceland, however, Akureyri assists in their resettlement by offering them support in obtaining housing and services like language education.

Obviously, says Anna Marit, these individuals have fled horrifying circumstances, and there are certain difficulties that go along with that. Nevertheless, “The vast majority of people who have come here have done very well and generally speaking, they want to find work as soon as possible, that’s pretty evident,” she says. “Most came to have a safer, better life and, not least, they’re thinking about their children—it’s really important to them that their children do well in school.”

‘I didn’t even know Iceland existed’

High schooler Nour Maria Naser came to Iceland from Syria with her parents and two younger brothers. She didn’t know Iceland even existed before arriving in the country five years ago.

Nour Maria says she’s adjusted well to life in Akureyri but some things—like the darkness and walking on ice—have been hard to get used to. She and her brothers speak Icelandic, and she says that the younger two are doing well in school. She plans to study medicine at university in the fall.

Mohamad Eid Alarouri arrived in Akureyri from Syria with his wife and two sons in September. Their family has since expanded: daughter Lamis was born in December. Mohamad says he’s very happy in Akureyri and is working to get his feet under him in Iceland. “I am learning Icelandic now and becoming part of the community so that my family and I can have a better life.”

Important to review resources and resettlement agreement

Looking ahead, Anna Marit says that it’s really important for there to be sufficient resources in place for incoming refugees. “Foreign studies show that refugees make positive contributions to society within a few years. So receiving refugees in Iceland is important to us as a society.”

Immigrant Counselling Centre Opens its Doors

Kolbeinn Óttarsson Porppé, Joanna Marcinkowska, and Ásmundur Einar Daðason

Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason opened New In Iceland today, a counselling centre for immigrants in Iceland offering services in eight languages. The goal of New in Iceland is to ensure better and more direct counselling for immigrants in order to help them feel safe and supported while living in Iceland. New in Iceland is a pilot project of the Icelandic Ministry of Social Affairs and was established as a result of a parliamentary resolution from 2019 introduced by Left-Green MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé.

The centre’s goal is to offer accessible counselling, directions, and information for immigrants on necessary services, their rights and responsibilities, helping to keep them safe, well-informed, and supported. The centre is meant to be a co-operative platform between municipal and state-run institutions; unions; and other associations working closely with the Multicultural and Information Centre, the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, the Debtors’ Ombudsman, and the Directorate of Labour. Counsellors can gather information from different institutions and facilitate connections to advance services, making it easier for immigrants to get the services they require.

The counselling centre employs five people from diverse backgrounds who are able to offer counsel in seven languages in addition to Icelandic: English, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Lithuanian, and Russian. Counsel in other languages is also available through translators and all services are free of charge and confidential. The Counseling Centre’s new website newiniceland.is is now up, where individuals can be in touch, request an interview or just chat with the counsellors.

The counselling centre is a nine-month pilot project and is up for review after six months to determine its future operations.

Icelandic Government to Establish Immigrant Counselling Centre

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

The Icelandic Parliament passed a parliamentary resolution yesterday to establish a counselling centre for immigrants, RÚV reports. A majority, or 49 MPs, voted for the resolution, while seven Centre Party MPs voted against it.

The resolution was put forth last fall by Left Green Movement MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé alongside seven of his fellow party members. It obliges the Minister of Social Affairs to establish an immigrant counselling centre, whose role will be to provide accessible information and advice to immigrants on services they can access, as well as their rights and responsibilities as residents of Iceland.

The minister will consult closely with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, as well as municipal authorities, the Icelandic Red Cross, and workers’ unions on the development and operation of the centre. Immigrants account for nearly 13% of Iceland’s population and nearly 20% of workers in the country.

Akureyri to Open Service Centre for Victims of Violence

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs and Children have agreed to earmark a combined ISK 24 million {$200,402; €176,854] in the establishment of a new service centre in Akureyri for victims of violence, Vísir reports.

The Akureyri Chief of Police will oversee the project in collaboration with a number of other organizations: the town of Akureyri, the University of Akureyri, the Akureyri Hospital, the Health Care Institution of North Iceland, the Kvennaathvarfið Women’s Shelter, the Kvennaráðgjöf Women’s Counseling Centre, the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, and Aflið, the Association Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. They hope to open by March 1, at which point, the new centre will provide free social support services and legal advice to adults who have been the victims of violence.

A similar centre, called Bjarkahlíð is already operational in Reykjavík. The new centre, which is being created at the behest of the North Iceland Police, is intended to serve individuals living in north and east Iceland. It will run as a pilot program for two years and receive its funding from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs, who are splitting the cost equally between them.


Propose a “One-Stop Shop” for Immigrants

Several MPs are proposing the establishment of a “one-stop shop” for new immigrants in Iceland, Kjarninn reports. Left Green Movement MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé is the main proponent of a bill to that effect, which the group plans to introduce in the coming parliamentary term.

Immigrants currently account for nearly 12% of Iceland’s population of 353,000. Their number has never been higher, and never increased as quickly as in the past 18 months. Kolbeinn says the institution would be a place where new residents could go for information regardless of where they are from or where in Iceland they have settled.

“Whether its of one’s own accord or of necessity due to bad circumstances, everyone benefits from getting the best guidance about their new community,” the project proposal stated. “Improved access to information makes people’s change of circumstances easier and at the same time contributes to people becoming active in society much earlier.”

Regional organisations performing such work have sprung up of late in Iceland, such as the Multicultural Centre in Ísafjörður in the Westfjords. Kolbeinn hopes the new institution would collaborate with regional governments, the Icelandic Red Cross, and trade unions to support immigrants in the process of adapting to their new home.