From Iceland — After The Fire: We Can Do More To Protect Immigrants. When Will We?

After The Fire: We Can Do More To Protect Immigrants. When Will We?

Published July 21, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Poppy Askham

On June 25th, a house fire at Bræðraborgarstígur 1 killed three people and injured numerous others. The house had been reported on several times before for its dilapidated and unsanitary living conditions. When a clearer picture emerged of how people were living there—exorbitant rent for a single room, dozens sharing a single kitchen and bathroom, and landlord reportedly unwilling to improve conditions—many people in the immigrant community were unsurprised.

Do immigrant lives matter?

Hours after news of the fire broke, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir chose to tweet about the results of a football match. She has, at the time of this writing, yet to say a single word about the tragedy. She did, though, recently attend a memorial for a fire at Þingvellir that claimed Icelandic lives and took place decades ago. In fact, city and state leaders have spent more time pointing the finger at one another than they have in shouldering any responsibility at all.

Where are the candles?

Another thing that immigrants in Iceland were quick to point out is how the story was reported on. Traditionally, when someone dies in Iceland, media outlets will use a tasteful photo of a candle, or several candles, to commemorate the event. This is done out of respect for the loved ones of the deceased. This was not the case in this event, as many media outlets chose instead to use banner images of the grizzly aftermath of the blaze.

What will change?

While union leadership and members of Parliament’s and Reykjavík city council’s opposition parties have at least offered cursory statements that more needs to be done to ensure the safety and wellbeing of immigrant workers, but the parties in power at the state and municipal levels have been silent. Iceland’s immigrant community can hardly be blamed if they feel their lives matter less than those of Icelanders.

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