After spending a gazillion dollars convincing foreigners that Iceland in winter is not an uninhabitable rock floating in the colder bits of the North Atlantic, the tourism industry has found itself overwhelmed by an influx of winter visitors. Having been lured here by the promise that Iceland wants to be your friend, they have instead found that Icelandic nature has all the personal skill of an enraged reindeer bull and the charming demeanour of a sand blaster to the face.
SO ASYLUM TOURISM REFERS TO TOURISTS SEEKING ASYLUM FROM THE WINTRY WEATHER?
No, not really, but the reality is only slightly less ludicrous. The term “asylum tourism” was imported into Icelandic public discourse by Kristín Völundardóttir, the head of the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.
OH GOOD, AN EXPERT! WHAT DOES THIS TERM SHE USED MEAN?
Here is the odd thing. In a recent Icelandic language press release she used the term “asylum tourism” in English. In English, that means visiting disused psychiatric institutions and has nothing to do with asylum seekers. As far as this column has been able to discover, the term “asylum tourism” as Kristín used it could have three origins. The first comes from Slovakia and began life as yet another slur on the Roma. The second meaning, referring to asylum-seekers being housed in tourist accommodation, was born in Austria.
DO YOU KNOW WHO ELSE WAS BORN IN AUSTRIA?
Kommissar Rex, the crime-fighting German Shepard. And really, enough with the Hitler jokes about Austria, it has been absolutely ages since they have given us a genocidal dictator. The third meaning of “asylum tourism” refers to the practice of shuttling asylum seekers between different countries in Europe. However, none of these meanings have anything to do with what Kristín Völundardóttir was talking about in a radio interview that got her into hot water.
DURING THE ICELANDIC WINTER, HOT WATER IS WHAT YOU WANT TO GET INTO.
That is true, but this is the metaphorical hot water where you end up getting immediately pencilled in for a meeting with your boss, in this case Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson. You see, there was an outcry in the media when Kristín implied that some of the asylum seekers her institution is supposed to serve were nothing more than tourists that applied for asylum to receive free room and board in Iceland.
THAT’S A RATHER ODD THING FOR A CIVIL SERVANT IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY OVER ASYLUM SEEKERS TO IMPLY.
Well, she did not imply it so much as say it outright. She told Icelandic state broadcaster RÚV that “It can be a bit appealing for people who are not exactly asylum seekers, who intend to work illegally or come here for other reasons, to come to Iceland. It could be a very attractive bonus to get free food and shelter when the application process is so long.”
She went on: “People are just going abroad to get to know the country and nation and make use of the services that asylum seekers are offered.” When the interview caused outrage Kristín put out the previously mentioned press release claiming that her words had been taken out of context. In response, RÚV released the entire interview revealing that, in fact, she had not been taken out of context.
MAYBE SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT WORDS MEAN; APHASIA IS A RECOGNISED DISORDER.
She certainly has a history of using words that make people confused. In an article in the newspaper Fréttablaðið, Tatjana Latinovic, former head of the Organization of Women of Foreign Origin, brought up a number of remarks by the head of the Directorate of Immigration, for instance that people from one particular country routinely trafficked children and that foreigners were gaining Icelandic citizenship in large numbers using forged papers.
BY NOW I’M JUST GONNA ASSUME THE WORST AND GUESS THAT THERE’S NOTHING TO BACK UP THOSE CLAIMS.
Tatjana says the civil servant offered no data and made the excuse that the institute she runs has neither the money nor time to do scholarship or research. Which, you know, if they prioritise taking care of the people in their care, is excellent news.
THEY DO? SO THERE IS AN UPSIDE TO… OH… YOU’RE BEING SARCASTIC.
RÚV’s cultural program Víðsjá dedicated part of recent show to this issue. Asked by a reporter if he considered his stay in an Icelandic detention centre for asylum seekers a form of tourism, Afghan refugee Naveen Noori said that it was like being in a sort of prison. The rest of the segment bore him out.
Have you engaged in asylum tourism? Tell us about it, Letters@grapevine.is