From Iceland — Ask Not on Whom the Sun Shines

Ask Not on Whom the Sun Shines

Published July 27, 2014

New Refugee-Hostile Chief of Capital Area Police

Ask Not on Whom the Sun Shines

New Refugee-Hostile Chief of Capital Area Police

If the State Prosecutor decides to take the Interior Ministry to court, for breach of confidentiality, slander, and abuse of public office against two asylum seekers, the Capital Area Police will in all likelihood handle the criminal investigation, as it has until now. Since the police is subordinate to the Interior Ministry, the police thereby investigates its own superiors. There seems to exist little, if any, protocol for that, which calls for some improvisation. Which is the best way forward? Which way towards a convincing, ethical code of conduct?

Should the Minister resign? —No, you are confusing Iceland with some other Nordic country. —Step aside? —You are doing it again. —Maybe some of her staff should? —LOL. —Well, then, declare, at least, respect for the severity of the accusations? And perhaps stress the importance of finding out the truth of the matter, however hard it may be? —Stop, please, you kill me!

No, there are other ways. The Interior Ministry just announced it would replace the chief of the Capital Area Police, appointing one Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir to the post, without any preceding call for applications. No doubt, there are all sorts of solid reasons behind the appointment. There is no reason but to presume that the appointed is diligent, thorough, hard-working, loyal, whatever other administrative virtues there are. It may not hurt however, that she has also proven herself to be —excuse my language— vigorously refugee-hostile in office. Proven? Really? How?

Great Location, Close to Airport, Amazing View, Solid Bars!

As police chief in Suðurnes, the jurisdiction of Keflavík Airport, since 2009, Sigríður Björk upheld and defended the practice of arresting upon arrival those asylum seekers who travel with false passports. The practice seems to fly in the face of the United Nations Refugee Convention, wherein it is explicitly stated that authorities “shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees”. This is mainly because, practically by definition, refugees often have no other way to travel. Exotic lava fields, northern lights or midnight sun, whatever there may be to enjoy in Iceland, every third refugee enjoys, for the first month by standard, behind bars.

That this welcoming ritual goes against internationally accepted codes of conduct is not just a layman’s opinion: Last year, a representative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR accused Iceland of violating international law, by the practice, stating: “I want to make it very clear that [the UNHCR] considers this unjustifiable. It is plainly stated that you cannot punish refugees for illegally entering a country.” Alþingi proposed to react and forbid the practice through legislation. It was in response to these proposed changes, that the police chief provided official commentary to Alþingi, stating that regardless of the UN’s objections, she would very much prefer this tradition to be left intact .

This is oversimplifying a bit, though. In the two-page commentary, as Chief of Police in Suðurnes, Sigríður actually makes and emphasizes three distinct recommendations: to secure broader permits for surveillance of foreigners in the country; to open a “powerful immigration reception center”, run 24/7 by “powerful staff”, in order to detain all asylum seekers upon arrival and during preliminary investigations as to their status and identity; and finally, the aforementioned recommendation, that the police continue arresting asylum seekers with false ids, upon arrival. (Because, the alleged reasoning goes, sometimes they are on their way to Canada. It is a peculiar read.)

Insubstantiated Insinuations

Is there any concrete evidence that Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir’s appointment as Chief of the Capital Area Police force is some sort of a macabre chessboard-maneuver of a Minister preoccupied by saving her own skin, digging a surprisingly deep hole, then a labyrinthine tunnel of self-justification, into what at first looked like a much thinner layer of mess? There is not. State administration works in mysterious ways. We have no access to the thing itself, but only catch glimpses of its surface reflections. Nothing can be asserted about the real motives of a Ministry. They can only be conjectured and then insinuated. Let’s insinuate the following: That come next fall, Minister of the Interior, Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, might hope things finally get back to normal. The way she planned. That any charges against her, the Ministry or its staff will be dropped, say on the basis of lack of evidence. Or due to investigative procedures going against protocol. Or documents misplaced in a drawer deep enough to swallow the whole Human rights charter.

To end on a positive note, some things, on the other hand, can be safely asserted, without any qualms. One such thing is that promoting codes of conduct, that elsewhere would be precluded as human rights violations, does not, in Iceland, stand in the way of a promising police career. This is what we call tolerance, then: At least some people are not discriminated against. Unless you find a logical flaw in this argument, that must be a good sign.

The Party tolerates all those who tolerate its conduct. If we just allow them a little fair weather, you never know. One day that sun might shine on thee.

Backstory, Summary:

Autumn 2013. Sensitive ministry documents leaked through two newspapers, slandering asylum seeker Tony Omos from Nigeria.

“Not comparable to any documents in the ministry,” Minister says. State Prosecutor and Capital Area Police nonetheless investigate.

Minister tries to prevent reporting of the case, slanders journalists.

Minister pressures MPs not to ask her about the case in public.

Reykjavík District Court claims the memo was created solely “to impugn his reputation”. Minister implicated and her assistant potential suspect.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!