Large Drop in Asylum Applications

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland dropped by 56% in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same period last year. Only 410 applications were submitted during January and February, with 925 submitted during those same months in 2023.

Costs to go down substantially

If this trend continues, authorities will process between 2,000 and 2,500 applications from asylum seekers this year, a drop of 40-50% from last year, Heimildin reports. This would mean that the cost of asylum services, which has been heavily criticised in the Icelandic political sphere in recent months, would drop by a third, from ISK 17.7 Billion [$130 Million, €119 Million] this year to ISK 11.5 Billion [$84 Million, €77 Million]. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour expects costs to drop even further if the speed of processing applications can be increased.

Most applications from Ukraine and Venezuela

In 2023, 4,155 people applied for asylum in Iceland. The vast majority were arriving from Ukraine and Venezuela. Both of these groups were given additional protection during the process due to conditions in their home countries. Additional protection for people arriving from Venezuela, however, was revoked last year. Due to this decision, many Venezuelans were left without a work permit in Iceland, but received financial support from the state while the decision to revoke protection was in appeals process. Outside of these two groups, only 951 applications for asylum were submitted last year.

Iceland Deports 180 Venezuelans

Keflavík Airport

The Icelandic authorities deported 180 Venezuelans earlier this week who had come to the country seeking asylum. They received a cold welcome when they landed in Venezuela, according to those interviewed by Heimildin. The fight was carried out by Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration and the European border agency Frontex.

One of the Venezuelans who was deported from Iceland stated that the group was stopped at the airport and their money was taken from them. The group was reportedly received by police and taken to a building where they were required to stay for the next two days. People from the group have been interrogated repeatedly and made to sign numerous documents without legal assistance, according to Heimildin’s sources.

Venezuelans no longer given additional protection

For several years, the Icelandic government provided additional protection to almost all Venezuelans who sought asylum here due to the poor conditions in Venezuela. Earlier this year, the Immigration Appeals Board upheld several negative rulings by the Directorate of Immigration involving Venezuelans.

Venezuelans have strongly protested this, as conditions in Venezuela are still very bad. Few people have access to health care and most ordinary citizens have difficulty meeting their basic needs. The crime rate in Venezuela is one of the highest in the world.

Stricter legislation passed

The number of asylum applications by Venezuelan citizens in this country has grown enormously in recent years – they went from 14 in 2018 to 1,209 in 2022. Between January and September of this year they numbered 1,318. After the Immigration Appeals Board confirmed the negative rulings of the Directorate of Immigration, the number of applications began to decrease.

Human rights organisations have criticised the Icelandic government for increasingly harsh legislation on asylum seekers. Legislation passed in Iceland’s Parliament last spring strips asylum seekers of essential services after their applications have received a final rejection, unless they consent to deportation. Iceland’s current Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has proposed establishing detention centres for asylum seekers.

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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Venezuelan Asylum Seekers Challenge Directorate of Immigration Rulings

deportation iceland

 

Some 2,000 people from Venezuela have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of last year. Last summer, Iceland’s Directorate of Immigration ruled that applicants from Venezuela should be given asylum, but this ruling was overturned last month after the Directorate of Immigration reevaluated conditions in Venezuela and came to the conclusion that they had changed. Five applications from the country that the Directorate has rejected are being appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, which has yet to take a stance regarding this change. RÚV reported on the issue.

Crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Jón Sigurðsson, chairman of the Association of Asylum Seeker Representatives (Félag talsmanna umsækjenda um alþjóðlega vernd) says the association disagrees with the Directorate’s assessment and that conditions in Venezuela have certainly not changed for the better. “People’s situation in relation to the government, how the government treats protesters and political opponents, and the fear towards authorities that people live with, that’s a big part of why people need protection,” Jón stated. He points out that a United Nations report stated that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela. “And it’s at the behest of the government.”

Residents of Venezuela face shortages of basic necessities, such as water, electricity, food, and healthcare. “There’s a shortage of all necessities, so people can’t live a decent life.” Some 1,600 residents of Venezuela are currently waiting for a ruling from the Directorate of Immigration. Some have already been denied asylum, and five had appealed the decision. A ruling on the appeal is expected within the next three months. Jón says it is contradictory to deny people asylum based on new data and reports written this year, many months after the people arrived in Iceland.

220 asylum seekers, 45 children, to be deported

Deportation of asylum seekers to Venezuela has not begun, but staff of the Police Commissioner’s Office are scheduled to deport 220 people from Iceland in the near future, including 45 children. Most of those who are awaiting deportation are from Nigeria, Iraq, and Palestine, and the largest group (around 60 people) will be deported to Greece, a practice that has been criticised by human rights organisations in Iceland for years.

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson recently stated the Icelandic government needs to “go further” in encouraging asylum seekers whose applications had been rejected to leave the country. He has proposed legislation that would offer applicants increased financial incentive to leave the country in the case of rejected asylum applications. The Directorate of Immigration operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister Promises Additional Tightening of Asylum Seeker Regulations

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has proposed changes to regulations governing asylum seekers in Iceland that will be made public in the coming days, RÚV reports. The proposed changes include implementing systemic measures to encourage asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected to leave the country. Jón stated he believes the government needs to “go further” and says the Justice Ministry has been working on a bill that “tackles certain uniquely Icelandic rules.”

Changes for asylum seekers from Venezuela

Like other countries in Europe, Iceland is seeing a surge in the number of asylum seekers. Over 1,700 people have applied for asylum in Iceland since the beginning of this year, with the largest group, nearly half, from Venezuela.  The Directorate of Immigration recently updated its assessment of conditions in Venezuela so that asylum seekers arriving from the country no longer automatically receive additional protection in Iceland. The Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board has yet to take a stance regarding this change.

Read More: Refugee Man and Family Previously Deported Win Case

Iceland’s Parliament passed a highly-criticised immigration bill last month that strips asylum seekers in the country of their rights, including access to housing and healthcare, 30 days after their applications have been rejected. Human rights organisations in Iceland have strongly opposed the bill, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.

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.

84 Venezuelans Granted Asylum in 2019

216 individuals were granted asylum by the Directorate of Immigration during the first nine months of 2019, RÚV reports. Venezuelans accounted for the most numerous applicants, or 84. Compared to last year, far fewer Albanians have applied for asylum this year.

The past three years have seen a steady decrease in asylum applications: 1,133 in 2016, 1,096 in 2017, and 800 in 2018. Compared to last year, however, the first nine months of this year saw a slight increase (621 applications). A total of 216 applications have been approved (some of which may have been submitted in 2018).

Like last year, Iraqi nationals were the most numerous applicants. Of the 110 Iraqis that applied, 28 were granted asylum. 42 Afghans have applied – approximately as many as last year – and 20 have been granted asylum. 38 Nigerians have applied – again, approximately as many as last year – but only two have been granted asylum. Albanians were the fifth most numerous applicants during the first nine months of 2019; three times as many Albanians had applied for asylum during the first nine months of 2018 (34 have applied this year).

The biggest change from last year, however, is the number of Venezuelans who have applied for asylum. Last year, 14 applied and 7 were granted asylum. This year, 84 Venezuelans have applied for asylum, every one of which has been granted.

Icelandic Government Backs Venezuela’s Juan Gauidó

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has declared that he and the government of Iceland support Venezuela’s Juan Gauidó in his opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government, RÚV reports. The country has struggled in recent years as poverty and crime have reached an all-time high while its economy suffers and its system of governance has turned dangerously unstable.

Juan Guaidó is the leader of the disenfranchised Venezuelan legislature who on January 23 declared himself the president of the country, causing uproar amongst Maduro’s supporters.

Maduro, who succeeded president Hugo Chavez following the latter’s death in 2013, has proved a controversial figure, as Venezuela struggles with hyperinflation, food and medical supply shortages and exceedingly high crime and murder rate. Three million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, according to a United Nations report, with numbers expected to reach 5 million by the end of the year.

“This has been a long time coming,” Guðlaugur Þór says. “We know what the situation in Venezuela is. In a country that is rich in resources, its current state is dire. The rightfully elected National Assembly [led by Juan Gauidó] has been stripped of its power. As things are now, the country is more akin to a dictatorship.”

The European Union and many countries around the world have demanded a new election in Venezuela and American president Donald Trump has threatened military intervention if the country’s situation remains unchanged.

Trump has denied Maduro’s request for direct talks who in turn has warned that Venezuela could turn into another Vietnam for the US, should the country intervene in Venezuela’s affairs.

As of now, Nicolás Maduro still has the support of Venezuela’s military, with Juan Gauidó making a concerted effort recently to turn their allegiance in his favour.