Mag
Articles
“Freedom Of Movement Is A Fundamental Right”

“Freedom Of Movement Is A Fundamental Right”

Published June 27, 2012

As if following the pattern of a migratory bird, Iceland’s refugee issues have yet again flown into the discussion. Last year’s harbinger of spring was an Iranian refugee’s attempted self-immolation inside the Red Cross headquarters of Reykjavík. This time it was the jailing of two teenagers, one from Algeria and one from Morocco, who entered the country with forged passports (See Issue 6, page 18).
Grassroots activist movement No Borders plays a large role in this discussion. The movement can be traced back to the summer of 2008 when two men ran onto the runway of the Keflavík International Airport and stopped an airplane from deporting a Kenyan refugee to Italy. After a long and complicated process, the Kenyan man, Paul Ramses, was finally granted asylum in Iceland.
I met up with two No Borders activists—Haukur Hilmarsson, one of the two airport runners, and Jórunn Edda Helgadóttir, a master in International Law—to ask them about the movement’s ideas and actions. Below is a glimpse of our conversation, which you can read in entirety on The Reykjavík Grapevine’s website.
So, what is No Borders?
Haukur: It is a banner used by movements around the world that share the idea that borders are a form of violence that must be abolished. These movements work with refugees and immigrants by, for instance, assisting them in entering the countries they want to live in. As No Borders is a particularly informal network, it’s up to each chapter to organise their work in a way best suited to achieve their goals.
Jórunn: The vision of a world without borders is also based on the idea that the freedom of movement is a fundamental right.
Haukur: Our priority so far has been to secure refugees’ stay in Iceland, which has resulted in us not being able to focus enough on our fundamental anti-racist ideas, such as that borders should not exist. Instead, we have been kind of forced to constantly criticise the system on its very own terms.
A world without borders would mean the end of the nation state, wouldn’t it?
Jórunn: At least as we currently know it. The strength of the nation state depends on the idea of sovereignty, which again depends on strong borders. Each time Iceland deports a refugee, the small and powerless state is showing that it can at least exercise this type of power, thereby reinforcing its sovereignty.
Haukur: Yeah, that’s a good way of describing it. For me it’s clear that abolishing borders inevitably leads to the end of The State. This idea has, however, been the biggest matter of contention within our group, and we haven’t reached a consensus. Still, it has never been a hindrance to our activism. People who don’t identify as anarchists can still agree that everybody should be allowed to travel over whatever imaginary line there is. People, who in many ways speak the language of state power, can very well see how that same state power is violating basic human rights. We all share this radical idea of opening up borders, which would imply huge changes that many people are afraid of, but we believe are good.
In what way would that be good?
Jórunn: I can envision a whole lot of potential positive effects, but as I consider the freedom of movement to be a fundamental human right, abolishing the borders and thus stopping the violation of this particular right is good enough in itself.
Haukur: First and foremost, I think it would lead to greater individual freedom on a global scale. I believe it’s good for people to enjoy freedom, to be able to travel to new places, to share their ideas and to get to know new ones. I don’t think that foreigners are dangerous to the locals of a given place, and I don’t think the general public of the Western World has a single reason to be afraid of the public of the Third World.
At the same time, many people haven’t hesitated to announce the death of multiculturalism…
Jórunn: Well, I have witnessed multicultural societies that work out very well and there are plenty of such examples. Those who state the opposite often just use a single example of conflict between different cultures to discredit this idea.
Haukur: People tend to think of a multicultural society as one where people who have slanted-eyes or dark-skin are allowed…
Jórunn: Where it is OK to cook exotic food…
Haukur: And to dance in a non-traditional way… but where people are nevertheless obliged to speak the language of the ruling system and raise their kids in that society’s predominant culture. That is a very strange idea about a society of many cultures.
Back to the refugees, it would be fair to say that something has changed in recent years though, right?
Jórunn: If the policy used to be to refuse as many refugees as possible, it seems to have changed due to pressure. Statistics show that more refugees are granted asylum than before, and due to a new law, most of those who would in the past have been granted asylum on humanitarian grounds now fit a similar criteria as refugees and thus have stronger standing.
Haukur: However, I would hesitate to state that any permanent policy changes have been made. There have hardly been any irreversible changes, changes that can’t be taken back at the single stroke of a pen by a new government.
Given that you don’t expect your radical ideas about the abolition of borders and the nation state to be fulfilled in the near future, what do you want to see happen now? What are your current goals?
Jórunn: I would like to see the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) shut down and a new institution established in its place. That one should not be built on the UTL’s old, fascist foundations and should be staffed with people working in the interests of immigrants and refugees. It should operate as a service institution, in favour of people’s rights, not against them.
Haukur: I would like people to see the situation of refugees and immigrants in Iceland in the context of a global history of racism. I know so many people who would never attempt to justify the South African apartheid, but can nevertheless speak in favour of this segregation of refugees.
Jórunn: And it surely is a form of apartheid when people are not allowed to enter the country and are instead deported back to a place they don’t want to be in, or even to places where their lives or dignity are at risk.
Haukur: Furthermore, it’s not enough to understand—one also has to act in accordance with that understanding. I have no hopes of any acts from The State, but would like to see more people connecting personally with refugees. That will only happen physically, by meeting and empathising with them.



Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Best Place To Cool Off On One Of Those Icelandic Scorchers

by

It’s 15 degrees. Fahrenheit? No, Celsius. Shorts weather? Fuck you, it’s underwear weather. The sun bears down on a thick, humid Reykjavík day. The sunbathers in Austurvöllur have burnt to a crisp. You’re parched, you’re sweaty. Does anywhere in this country have air conditioning? You look out to the harbour, considering a dip, but no—with all those ships, it just doesn’t seem safe…Where do you go? What do you do? But then common sense kicks in. “Duh,” you think, and your feet follow. You thought you could get away with not wearing deodorant in Iceland? You stink. You’re a zombie

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Keeping Reykjavík Preened

by

It’s no secret that Icelanders take their hair very seriously. For years, Rauðhetta og úlfurinn has been the go-to spot for Icelanders looking to sport a fresh cut. As four-time winners of our annual ‘Best Place To Get A Trendy Haircut’ award, it’s clear that the experts at the Skólavörðustígur studio know how to chop some locks. According to salon manager Sandra Olgeirsdóttir, being the best at trendy haircuts is all about practice and this salon has been doing that for the last 17 years. In addition to offering clients magazines and massages, she says they always try to figure

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

“The Fag-End Of Civilization”

by

It is no secret that the village of Reykjavík was not only a tiny place in the eyes of 19th century tourists in Iceland but also a “filthy” and “desolate” shantytown. Iceland was a poor and isolated country back then. By 1900 the capital had only around 6,000 inhabitants (always described as “souls”) which all lived in the city centre of today. The foreign visitors in the 19th century were mostly rich Europeans who were shocked by the poverty and extreme hardships faced by Icelandic people. These tourists mostly wrote about the ugliness and are sometimes merciful in their descriptions.

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Place In The World To Be A Woman?

by

Women are reportedly more equal to men in Iceland than any other place in the world. But does this mean that we have reached the goal of gender equality? In international media and discourse, Iceland is often portrayed as the best place to be a woman. We certainly use it to market ourselves to tourists and boast of it in our own media. This is in large part due to the recognition we have received from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. For four years in a row now, Iceland has been ranked as number one on the

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Searching For The Best Public Bathroom

by

Something that always seems to be missing in reviews of restaurants, bars, cafés and whatnot, is the bathroom. Perhaps it is a taboo subject? But when you think about it, the flowery potpourri smell in the bathroom might make up for a mediocre cup of coffee or a semi-flat beer and stumbling upon a clogged toilet could make you forget about all the great food and service you just got. What good is a good soup if your dining experience is shadowed by a dirty bathroom? When writing these reviews, I went to some of Reykjavík’s most popular cafés to

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Way To Hit 12 Bars In 12 Hours!

by

We at the Grapevine do not encourage people to drink to excess, but if you ever wanted to have 12 drinks at 12 bars in 12 hours, we’ve mapped out the best way to do that! Most bars in Reykjavík have a happy hour, and if you align them in the correct order on a Friday, you can get a dozen in a row. If you give yourself 15–20 minutes to get from place to place, we reckon you should be able to make it. You’ll need to have a friend with you though, as a few places on the

Show Me More!