Iceland Closes Airspace to Russia

Iceland

The Icelandic government has decided to close its airspace to Russian aircraft. RÚV reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced the decision via Twitter on Sunday morning, “in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Iceland was one of several Nordic countries to close its airspace to Russia over the weekend; Denmark, Sweden, and Finland announced that they would be doing the same on Sunday. Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania have also closed their airspace to Russia and Germany has announced its intention to do so as well. It’s expected that Russia will face a total EU airspace ban shortly.

Iceland condemns Russia’s ‘brutal and unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine, sends €1 million in aid

Þórdís Kolbrún has made a number of public statements condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine in recent days. On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion, Þórdís Kolbrún gave an official statement, stating that Iceland condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the brutal and unprovoked attack of Russia on Ukraine.” She continued: “Russia’s action is a flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and is in full contradiction to the Helsinki Final Act.” That same day, she tweeted that Iceland would be sending €1 million [ISK 141.19 million; USD 1.13 million] in humanitarian support to Ukraine.

The next day, she urged the Council of Europe to suspend “Russia’s right of representation in the Council of Europe with immediate effect.”

According to information from the Foreign Ministry, Iceland will also be revoking special privileges that have been afforded Russians coming to Iceland via existing bilateral agreements, such as simplified visa processing for Russian diplomats, businesspeople, politicians, and government representatives. The ministry has emphasized, however, that these moves are “not directed at general Russian tourists, students, or others,” whose visa applications will continue to be reviewed as per usual.

Iceland’s airspace patrolled by NATO

Iceland’s airspace is patrolled by NATO as part of an ongoing mission, called Icelandic Air Policing, which is meant “to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland and maintain the integrity of NATO airspace.” NATO members maintain a periodic presence of fighter aircraft from the former US military base at Keflavík. Icelandic Air Policing typically involves member nations deploying fighter aircraft to patrol Iceland’s airspace three times a year, for periods of three to four weeks at a time.

New Map Aims to Improve Safety of Travellers in Iceland

Safetravel.is, which aims to reduce the risk of travel-related accidents in Iceland, has introduced a new map. Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir formally introduced the map at the What’s On Tourist Information Centre in downtown Reykjavík this week.

The new map combines what once were three maps – vedur.is, vegagerdin.is, and safetravel.is – into one. Speaking at What’s On (Bankastræti 2) on Wednesday, Minister Þórdís Kolbrún stated that the new map was a “big step forward in ensuring the safety of travellers in Iceland.” The map displays travel conditions in real time: weather, road conditions, conditions at tourist attractions, wind gusts on roads, avalanche warnings, and more.

The map is a collaborative project between the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Innovation of Iceland; the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR); and Sjóvá-Almennar Insurance. The Safetravel project was recently renewed with increased funding from the Ministry. The new map is no less useful to locals as it is to tourists.

The map allows easy access to travel-related information, which is important considering that weather conditions in Iceland are known to change quickly.

Industrial Hemp Production Discussed in Parliament

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation of Iceland says she is willing to look into the possibility of reforming laws around hemp production for industrial use in Iceland, RÚV reports.

Halldóra Mogensen, MP for the Pirate Party, initiated the discussion, pointing out that drug laws in Iceland have made life difficult for companies and individuals interested in hemp products. She also stressed that by hemp, she is not referring to cannabis indica or other products that contain large amounts of the psychoactive chemical THC, but rather industrial hemp that is non-psychoactive and can be used for medication, clothing and many other applications.

Halldóra stressed that Icelandic law concerning hemp is in a “grey area” and the co-operation of various ministries would be needed to rectify the situation.

Þórdís in turn responded by saying that if production of non-psychoactive hemp could produce jobs and prosperity, she’s keen to look into it. Adding that “prejudices that people might have for the drug should not be a hindrance for other types of hemp being utilised”.

Experimental hemp production is already underway in Iceland. In Gautavík, farmer Pálmi Einarsson has been growing industrial hemp. He was among the speakers at a conference earlier this month called Hemp for the Future, where the many uses of hemp and its possible role in Iceland’s future was discussed. It was the first conference of its kind in Iceland.

Processing Time for Asylum Applications Will Be Shorter

Asylum seeker protest Reykjavík

Minister of Justice Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir authorized the Directore of Immigration to shorten the processing time for refugee applications and designated additional funding to the office to make this possible, RÚV reports. She emphasized that children’s application should be given first priority, “[b]ecause ten to twelve months is a long time. In reality, it’s longer for children than for adults because they are quicker to put down roots,” she remarked.

New regulations may not prevent planned deportations

Þórdís Kolbrún announced this decision on Friday in the wake of protests earlier in the week against the planned deportation of two Afghan families with children. On Thursday, a crowd of an estimated 1,000 protesters marched from Hallgrímskirkja church to Austurvöllur square in front of Alþingi to show solidarity with single father Asadullah Sarwary and his ten and nine-year-old sons, Mahdi and Ali, as well as with single mother Shahnaz Safari and her 12-year-old son Amir and 14-year-old daughter Zainab. Both families are currently set to be deported back to Greece, where they already received international protection status, but where the Red Cross has deemed living conditions for children with this status to be unfit.

Þórdís Kolbrún said she could not comment on whether Friday’s decision would have any impact on both family’s deportations. “I can’t answer exactly what the result will be, as the decision isn’t mine. We are only reviewing the system and presenting specific suggestions.” Following Friday’s change in regulations, the next step will be to appoint someone not involved in parliament to oversee a specially designated parliamentary committee on issues relating to foreigners.

“We need to take a humane approach to the reception of immigrants and refugees”

Iceland has not deported refugees to Greece on the basis of the Dublin regulation in nearly a decade. There are, however, additional regulations regarding people who have received international protections in Greece, as the Afghan families set to be deported have. People who receive international protection in Greece do not go through the asylum system there, which has been deemed to be unacceptable.

When asked to comment further on the Left-Green leadership’s policies on asylum issues, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said: “Our policy is based on the idea that we need to take a humane approach to the reception of immigrants and refugees. This is the same standard as what we have for immigration law: if we think that it isn’t working like it should, then it’s important to examine it and that’s what we’re doing.”

Katrín noted that international organizations are not in agreement about the living conditions of people who have been granted international protection in Greece. “The Red Cross has now come forward with its concerns about the situation in Greece,” she explained. “The reason it was sent to Greece is that [Iceland is a member] of the UN Refugee Agency. We follow their instructions.”

Þórdís Kolbrún has requested a meeting with the Red Cross to further discuss the living conditions for people with international protection in Greece and says that this needs to be situated within the broader context of living conditions in that country in general. “…[I]ndividuals who’ve received international protection and are in Greece are, in reality, in the same situation as Greek citizens who require social assistance,” she said. “This needs to be looked at in that context as well.”

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is Government’s Most Popular Minister

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

A new survey has found that Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Education, Science and Culture, is Iceland’s most popular cabinet minister. Stundin notes that no other minister comes close to Lilja’s rating: 67.6% approval, 9.6% disapproval.

Among her recent initiatives, Lilja has proposed the introduction of a bill outlining measures against sexual harassment in sports and youth groups, has suggested a restructuring of the Icelandic school system, and has introduced paid internships for student teachers.

The next most popular minister, with 43.2% approval and 19% disapproval, is Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir, the Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation who also temporarily serving as Minister of Justice. Þórdís Kolbrún took over as Minister of Justice in March, when Sigríður Á. Andersen resigned from the position after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her appointments to the Court of Appeal had been unlawful and impeded individuals’ rights to a fair trial. The survey was taken shortly after Sigríður resigned and so it perhaps comes as no surprise that she was found to be respondents’ least favorite minister, with an approval rating of 13.8% and a disapproval rating of 65.8%.

Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs has the next highest disapproval rating, 51.6%, although he still has an approval rating of 25%.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had a fairly even approval to disapproval rating: 38.6% said they were happy with her performance; 34.4% said they were dissatisfied.

The survey was conducted by Maskína from March 15 to 27. There were 848 respondents.

 

 

Protesters Stage Sit-In in Ministry Lobby for Third Day in a Row

Asylum seeker protest Reykjavík

A group of protesters from the activist group No Borders Iceland demonstrated in the lobby of the Ministry of Justice on Thursday afternoon, Vísir reports. This is the group’s third staged sit-in in as many days and as before, the protesters were carried out of the premises by police officers, who some protesters say used excessive force when removing them from the building.

As happened on both Monday and Tuesday, police were called to remove the protesters from where they sat in the Ministry of Justice’s lobby and chanted phrases such as “Start negotiations, no borders, no nations.” The group was directed to the Ministry by the Office of the Prime Minister but has not been able to secure a meeting there yet. As such, they have begun daily sit-ins in the Ministry’s lobby.

A video taken during the sit-in shows police entering the lobby and starting to pull apart protesters who were sitting on the floor. The two protesters on the end, including a young man named Bjarni Daníel, are dragged through the entrance by their arms and legs. After being removed from the lobby, the protesters resumed their demonstration outside the building, while police officers stood in front of the entrance. A photograph on Vísir shows Bjarni with visible bruising on his back after being carried out. “Yes, I was carried out rather roughly by the police,” he told reporters. He said he would be going to a local health clinic for an examination and then would decide whether or not to register a complaint with the police. At the time of the interview, at least, he did not think the injury was too severe. “It doesn’t look particularly good,” he said, “but I think I’m fine.”

Bjarni did note, however, that police used much more force during Thursday’s demonstration than they had on either of the previous days. “It’s as if they’re using more force now—like they’ve grown a bit tired of us.” He considers this unnecessary, particularly given that he did not fight back in any way while being removed.

Still, he wanted to refocus the discussion on his group’s primary concerns, i.e. deportations and treatment of asylum seekers. “This is nothing serious,” he said. “The point is not that I was subject to violence on this one occasion. That’s trivial in comparison to the violence that refugees have to live with every day.”

As of Thursday, No Borders had yet to secure a meeting with the Minister of Justice, Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir.