Published July 1, 2016
Our asylum seeker treatment has now reached epically dangerous and hypocritical proportions. As many of our readers are aware, the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) has for a long time now demonstrated astonishing levels of incompetence and cruelty, on many occasions in violation of international agreements regarding the treatment of asylum seekers. The events of the past week, however, show a level of cluelessness that has sparked criticism from such unlikely sources as our President-Elect and the Bishop of Iceland.
As reported, a pair of asylum seekers from Iraq who sought sanctuary in Laugarneskirkja church were forcibly detained by police, cuffed, and sent packing to Norway. These young men are now sitting in jail in Norway, a country that regularly sends asylum seekers from Iraq back to this broken country, where they face a violence those of us sitting in our comfortable western homes can only imagine. (Column continues after video)
It is the height of hypocrisy that Iceland – a NATO country and a part of the “Coalition of the Willing” that destroyed Iraq on false pretenses, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and laid the groundwork for the rise of the Islamic State – would have the temerity to contend that people running for their lives from the destruction we helped create in Iraq cannot make a home for themselves here, and that they’ll be perfectly fine being dropped back into a war zone.
At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior – which oversees the operations of UTL – has confirmed UTL’s apartheid policy of blocking volunteers and journalists from visiting these asylum seekers where they live, even when the asylum seekers themselves request these visits.
It is disingenuous to contend that asylum seekers who want to talk to journalists or meet with volunteers can simply leave these shelters and meet these people elsewhere. The vast majority of these asylum seeker shelters are situated in areas where they are largely separated from the general public, and where bus travel is both spotty and expensive. Even more dangerous, though, as emergency care worker Guðrún Björnsdóttir attests, is that if any of these asylum seekers find themselves needing medical attention – and the sheer levels of social isolation alone are enough to cause any number of health problems – they must endure a far more complicated process of getting said medical attention, often exacerbated by security staff at these shelters who ignore or act incredulous about medical complaints.
At the top of all this is Director Kristín Völundardóttir, who has gone on record saying that asylum seekers include people who engage in “asylum shopping”, bopping from country to country looking for the sweetest benefits they can soak up from government coffers. She has never provided evidence nor apologised for these claims, and her attitude is reflected in UTL’s continuous abuse of power.
When you’re running an institution that has managed to draw criticism from the President-Elect and the Bishop, you are most certainly doing something wrong. But all the evidence of UTL’s wrongdoing has been plainly obvious to all of us, for years. It should not take statements of condemnation from powerful people to clean house. While we hem and haw about “balanced reform”, while members of parliament appear unwilling or unable to stop this institution, people from a country we helped destroy who have turned to us for help cannot afford to wait.