Refugees and their supporters protested in front of Parliament throughout the third week of March, in the hopes of being able to speak with any MP about their demands for the right to work, access to health care, having their cases reviewed and related issues. While no member of Parliament, as far as we know, has spoken with these refugees, many members of Parliament were active in talking about them.
A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that there is a certain inconsistency regarding who may or may not exercise their constitutionally protected right to peaceably assemble and protest at Austurvöllur, the square in front of Parliament that has been the scene of numerous protests in the past.
Ólafur Ísleifsson, an MP for the Centre Party, expressed “concerns” about the protest; namely, that demonstrators had erected a tent on the square, with the permission of Reykjavík City Council. These “concerns” were addressed in parliament to the new Minister of Justice, Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, and were met with hisses and jeers from others in the hall.
Won’t someone please think of the statue???
Of particular point of interest to a few MPs was the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, a towering figure in Icelandic history, who was himself an active protester in his fight for Iceland’s independence from Denmark. Páll Magnússon, an MP for the Independence Party, took to Facebook to complain that the protesters had the unmitigated gall to festoon a sign around Jón’s neck reading, “I’m surrounded by marvellous people.”
Páll called the act “deeply shameful.” He is also the chair of the Judicial Affairs Committee, which at the time of this writing is questioning police about their recent use of force against the protesters.
Jón has always been a symbol of protest
Not everyone was antagonistic towards the protesters. Þorsteinn Viglundsson, an MP for the Reform Party, took to Facebook to point out that the statue of Jón Sigurðsson has been adorned by protesters with everything from pink dresses to aluminium foil, and that this latest act was perfectly in keeping with Jón’s legacy. Logi Einarsson, the chair of the Social Democrats, told reporters that he was baffled by the degree of force police used against a small group of peaceful protesters. MPs from the Pirates, Left-Greens and the Reform Party also criticised their colleagues for their degrading language about the refugees, and their lack of discussion over what the refugees actually want.
All this said, Iceland’s refugees are still trying to have a dialogue with the people who write laws that affect their lives directly. So far, their efforts have only resulted in arrests and pepper spray.
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