Why Hanna Birna's resignation might be cause for celebration, but is ultimately meaningless
Today, (now former) Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir resigned from her post, one year and one day after her ministry leaked a memo to select members of the press containing falsehoods and misinformation about Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos. As one of the first people to call for her resignation, you’d think I’d be doing a little victory dance on my desk right now over this. After all, this resignation comes just days after her former assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson, was found guilty of breach of confidentiality for his part in the whole thing and a slew of folks protested in front of parliament to specifically call for her walking papers. The system works, right?
No, the system is still broken, racist, and horribly unfair. It’s nice to soak in the schadenfreude a bit, but until fundamental changes are made to the system itself, replacing Hanna Birna with someone else only maintains the status quo and changes nothing.
First of all, Hanna Birna isn’t going anywhere. As she made perfectly clear in her statement to the press on the matter, she’s still going to be a member of parliament. She’s still going to be the vice chairperson of the Independence Party. She will take a little break to chill with her family, then spend the coming days crying to the media about how persecuted and bullied she was over the past year. In all likelihood, she will land a low-profile, high-paying, not-very-demanding position somewhere else in government.
Second, there’s still a couple people from this team left in her wake. Her other (now former) assistant, Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir, is still seeking to have two journalists thrown in prison for their coverage of this matter, despite condemnation from the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders. Commissioner of the Capital Area Police, Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir, who was hired by Hanna Birna and has gone on record defending Iceland’s violation of international law (more on that below) and helped Gísli Freyr bang together his memo, is still on the job.
But even firing all these people and barring them from ever participating in politics until the heat death of the universe wouldn’t change anything, because Iceland’s asylum seeker practices still continue to violate international law.
Like far too many asylum seekers in Iceland, Tony was made to wait much longer than Article 19 of Dublin Regulation II allows (in his case, 22 months), well past the legal limit of one year. Like many asylum seekers to Iceland, Tony was also deported in contravention of Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which legally requires state actors to “ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will” unless “such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Icelandic police also continue to arrest asylum seekers who arrive with false or expired passports, in direct violation of Article 31 of the Refugee Convention.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned all this, but Iceland still keeps doing it. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.
We should also not forget the media’s complicity in all this. When it came to light that the information on the Ministry’s memo was false and misleading, many media outlets chose to simply stop reporting on the matter altogether, for months. No correction, and certainly no apology to Tony Omos or anyone else named in the memo, was ever issued. The same media sources who received the Ministry’s memo – and knew all along who the source of the leak was – blithely reported on Gísli Freyr casting aspersions on Ministry cleaning staff as a possible source of the leak. They protected his identity, even if there are legal precedents for revealing sources – namely, if they deliberately feed you false and misleading information.
So you’ll forgive me if I don’t pop open the champagne at Hanna Birna’s dismissal. I’ll celebrate when Tony Omos is allowed to come back to Iceland. I’ll celebrate when it doesn’t take over a goddamned year for a politician to accept responsibility for their actions. I’ll celebrate when all media outlets actually challenge the word of the powerful, instead of copy-pasting their lies wholesale without further examination. I’ll celebrate when Iceland adopts an asylum seeker and immigration policy that is actually equitable and fair. In other words, it may be a very, very long time before there is actual cause for celebration where the Interior Ministry is concerned.