Segregating the poor - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Segregating the poor

Segregating the poor

Published March 25, 2010

The Icelandic charity organization Fjölskylduhjálp (Family Aid) helps hundreds of families a month. Fjölskylduhjálp, like its sister organizations Hjálparstofnun Kirkjunnar (The Icelandic Church Aid) and Mæðrastyrksnefnd (Mother’s Support Committee) supplies the needy with food and at times other necessities, like clothing or diapers. For the poor of Iceland, these are the last line of defence against indigence, and as some of you may have noticed poverty is on the increase, what with politicians and businessmen continually being their dismal and dystopian selves (before and after everything went to shit).
Last year Fjölskylduhjálp made the news for sending 30 Poles to the back of the line so that they could help “single mothers” first. Somehow that got lost in the hubbub. Forgotten, and nothing happened. And now they’re back. This morning’s Fréttablaðið revealed that indigenous Icelanders get preferential treatment at Fjölskylduhjálp – as of yesterday there are two separate queues. A quick service queue for Icelanders and another slower one for foreigners. According to Fréttablaðið newspaper the manager of Fjölskylduhjálp, Ásgerður Jóna Flosadóttir, claims that the segregation has been set up to counter the great demand foreigners have for food-help. She states that foreigners show up early and that “Icelandic parents and senior citizens” have given up on waiting because of all the foreigners in the queue. “We will not stand by and watch while senior citizens, who have toiled their whole lives, are turned away because of the demand of foreigners, many of whom only have a residence permit and some of whom don’t even receive welfare benefits.” That is to say – some of these bastards have no way of providing for themselves or their families AT ALL, which is why the charity organization has decided to treat them worse than other (presumably) more honourable people.
According to Mrs. Flosadóttir “foreigners” have a different “queue-culture” than Icelanders. As an example she says that “brawny Polish men” show up very early and that later in the day others show up and get to skip in front. It is not particularly original of a racist to describe foreigners as a threat to the local populace, the old and those needy in an indigenously correct manner. The image of “big bad” Eastern-Europeans has gotten plenty of backing in the media in the last years and in that context “brawny Polish men” may be understood as drug smugglers, criminal goons and violent hoodlums of more or less any Eastern European decent.
This is not the first time Mrs. Flosadóttir makes the news. She’s been active in politics for many years. Besides having served various functions in the women’s league of the Independence Party, she was for a time the vice chairman of the populist Liberal Party and ran second to reputed racist Magnús Þór Hafsteinsson in Reykjavík North, for the parliamentary elections 2007. Mrs. Flosadóttir used to be the chairman of another charity organization, the aforementioned Mæðrastyrksnefnd, but resigned shortly after a scandal where she had taken several of the organization’s volunteers for some R and R in sunny Portugal, paid for by the charity organization itself.
Fjölskylduhjálp now works on the assumption that you’re guilty until proven innocent. Everyone who wants to receive aid from the organization needs to have papers on hand proving their need. Similarly Mrs. Flosadóttir, in her role as Liberal Party candidate, was an outspoken supporter of the idea that immigrants should need to present their (clean) criminal record before entering the country. So this is hardly a new stance for her. The xenophobe’s view is usually one of fear: It’s a big bad world out there and you need to be afraid, to be very afraid. Otherwise all sorts of non-Nordic, non-Germanic people (and god forbid, coloured!) are going to ruin our wonderfully liberal, free, open-minded culture with their weirdo, threatening queuing habits (or so it might seem).
Fjölskylduhjálp receives financial aid from the city of Reykjavík, as well as single donations from organizations, individuals and companies such as Vodafone, Nova, Eimskip, FM957 and others – most of which undoubtedly had little or no idea they were supporting a segregationist charity.
Fortunately the Human Rights Council of the City of Reykjavík has protested. Marta Guðjónsdóttir, chairman of the council, has stated that while the city sponsors the organizations it cannot tolerate discrimination based on the origin of the needy.
And let us hope that in the spirit of responsibility, Mrs. Flosadóttir will be relieved of hers.
Addition: Later today Fjölskylduhjálp sent out an announcement stating that they had “never said” to the Fréttablaðið journalist that foreigners were put in one queue and Icelanders in another, and that only single mothers and the elderly had gotten priority (at this point, I’d like you to reread the quotes attributed to Mrs. Flosadóttir above). Fréttablaðið newspaper has not recanted its claim that the queues were foreign and domestic. Although Mrs. Flosadóttir stated in this morning’s interview that the two-queue system was here to stay, she now says it has been abolished and the rules of donation will be overhauled in cooperation with the city government. Knowing Iceland, I’m guessing this will be the end of the matter – until Mrs. Flosadóttir missteps again (at which point the same pattern of a semi-apologetically sounding refusal will lead to a renewed end to the matter).

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