And If You Don’t, We’ll Leak Incriminating Information About You
While families in Iceland gather together over the holidays, at least one couple will not have that privilege. After the Ministry of the Interior decided to uphold the Directorate of Immigration’s ruling to deport Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos on November 19, he went into hiding and left behind his seven months pregnant girlfriend Evelyn Glory Joseph.
The day after his planned deportation, Fréttablaðið newspaper published a front-page story claiming Tony was a suspect in a large human trafficking case in Iceland and Evelyn, one of his supposed victims, was pressured into falsely claiming he was the father of her unborn child. This information was reportedly leaked from the Ministry of the Interior.
Tony’s lawyer, Stefán Karl Kristjánsson, told the Grapevine that his client denied the trafficking allegations, which were brought against him fourteen months ago. The police have not pursued the matter since, and would not comment on whether the case was still open.
“When Tony came to Iceland he declared he was seeking asylum as a refugee,” Stefán said, “but the Directorate’s answer was to send him back to Switzerland [the country he came to Iceland from] to process his asylum application.” Stefán has sought a dismissal of this deportation ruling, claiming that Tony’s application had not been processed by Icelandic authorities, and asked that the matter be handled with expedience, allowing Tony to remain in Iceland until a verdict had been reached.
Evelyn, who has a pending asylum application herself, has denied being coerced by Tony to claim anything, and sources close to her say she had never mentioned him with regard to her past in Nigeria. “He is the father of my child, he is not trafficking people,” she said in a radio interview. She claims they met in Iceland and she is willing to have a paternity test to prove her expected child is his. If that is the case, deporting him would violate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iceland ratified in February.
A troubled leak
Following the leak, one of the minister’s assistants, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, sent out a couple of contradictory press releases. First, he suggested that a ministerial member of staff could have privately collected and disseminated the information. Then he retracted his statement, saying that nothing suggested inappropriate information had come from the ministry, despite having just confessed to newspaper DV that all signs pointed to the leak originating from the ministry.
Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has not made any statements regarding the matter, but MP for the Pirate Party Birgitta Jónsdóttir and MP for the Social Democratic Alliance Sigríður Ingibjörg Ingadóttir have requested that she appear before the Constitutional and Supervisory Committee to shed light on the leak.
Meanwhile, Evelyn’s lawyer Katrín Oddsdóttir has not requested that Persónuvernd (“the Data Protection Authority”) investigate the leak, but she said she hasn’t ruled it out. “I am baffled as to how very personal information about my client stumbled into the media without her knowledge or consent,” Katrín said.
Troubled asylum seekers
Áshildur Linnet, an Icelandic Red Cross project manager dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, was unable to comment on whether the Red Cross was aiding Evelyn and Tony, but she informed us that the organisation provides support to all refugees and asylum seekers who seek it. Although she said that the process had improved for all involved in recent years, the system was simply overloaded.
“Everyone involved agrees that cases take too long, and wants to help process applications faster,” Áshildur said. “People live under a variety of conditions, and we’ve worked to improve the standard of life in collaboration with the authorities. Although children and families are given support, more could be done in the way of social measures for asylum seekers in general.”
Iceland does not have a good track record when it comes to handling refugees and asylum seekers. Pia Prytz Phiri, the UN Refugee Agency’s regional representative, deemed the protocol of jailing asylum seekers upon entry unjustifiable. “It is plainly stated that you cannot punish refugees for illegally entering a country,” she said, referencing the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Áshildur echoed Pia’s concern.
Earlier this year Ghanaian asylum seeker Kwaku Bapi was jailed for 30 days for travelling on falsified documents. Whilst at the Litla Hraun maximum security prison, other prisoners reportedly turned him into their slave, making him wash their dishes and clean their rooms before beating him savagely.
Even those who are not jailed upon arrival will in all likelihood be denied asylum. According to statistics from the Directorate of Immigration, 93.5% of all applications for asylum were turned down from January 1 to September 30, with 128 of 137 applications rejected.
Whether or not the Directorate decides to fully process Tony’s case, his lawyer Stefán believes that Hanna Birna needs to take a stance on the leak. “If she believes her ministry’s actions have caused my client or Evelyn any damage,” he said, “then of course she should apologise, but if not, then that’s that.”
It seems certain at this point that the couple will not spend the holidays together.
Sidebar: This All Sounds Strangely Familiar
Tony Omos’s story is reminiscent of the story of another African asylum seeker who was de ported in July 2009. Despite the fact that Paul Ramses was married with a child born in Iceland and threats had been made to his life for his political activity in Kenya, the Directorate of Immigration denied him asylum and escorted him out of the country. Activists ran onto the runway as Paul’s plane was taking off, but to no avail and he was sent to Italy. However, after public outcry, then Min ister of Justice Björn Bjarnason reversed the Directorate’s decision and brought Paul back to Iceland. Paul was eventually given a residency permit in 2010 on humanitarian grounds.
Update: Since running this story, Tony has surrendered himself to authorities.