Published September 6, 2015
You may have noticed Iceland’s been making international headlines lately when it comes to refugees, and with good reason. Shortly after we reported that a grassroots movement had started here to pressure the government to bring in more refugees, the story spread like wildfire. That movement has had measurable effects on our elected officials, and has overwhelming public support. The jury’s still out on how many refugees Iceland will invariably accept, but the impact that this solidarity effort has had is already pretty impressive, and will hopefully lead to some positive changes for the better.
Concurrent with these events, unfortunately, has been the appearance of a small handful of detractors on our Facebook page (as well as the Facebook page of the movement itself, prompting mods there to step up their efforts) and in the comments sections under our articles. What they all have in common is they share a number of glaring misconceptions about Iceland, and feel the need to “warn” us not to accept refugees, lest the whole country collapse.
Fortunately, these individuals are easily overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who support Iceland’s initiative. But the opinions these anti-refugee people express do reflect an attitude you can see across Europe about refugees, and they need to be addressed.
The most common misconception about Iceland that the anti-refugee contingent has is that we are a homogeneous country. This is reflected in the warnings not to accept refugees and to put serious controls on immigration, especially if anyone hoping to move here happens to be Muslim. The consequences of ignoring these warnings, they tell us, is more violent crime, Sharia law, and societal collapse.
Well, bad news, guys: Iceland isn’t a homogeneous country. Close to 10% of our country are foreign-born. We have hundreds of Muslims living here, and have had for decades. We’ve also been accepting asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world since the 1950s. In other words, if you were hoping to shout your warnings at some Aryan paradise in the hopes of preventing it from being sullied by fellow human beings you deem unworthy of compassion, then you’re not talking about Iceland but some white power fantasyland that only exists in your fevered, paranoid imagination.
The fact is, Icelanders from large towns to tiny villages all have experience with refugees. When they’re allowed to stay (that is, when they aren’t summarily deported based on an obsolete European law), you know what happens? They send their kids to school, they go to work, they learn the language, they pay their taxes, they make friends, form new families, have more kids – they become a part of our society. Your dystopia is a lie.
This is why your cries of outrage fall on deaf ears. Iceland does not need your patrician howls of fearmongering about how many refugees we choose to accept, if any. We don’t need your monocultural scare tactics, your pleas to not let any refugees in and bar Muslims from entry. Because we already have refugees. We already have Muslims. And we like them.
Those of us living in Europe and North America cannot simply rain death and destruction on countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and then tell the people living there who survived – people just like you and me, in other circumstances – that they are unwelcome to have a better life in the land that destroyed theirs. Opening the borders to them is literally the least we can do, because borders themselves are an act of violence. They divide, they deprive, they let others drown and rot in detention centres while those inside profit from the destruction wrought elsewhere in the world.
Europeans are beginning to wake up to this, but there are fascists, racists and theocrats who are pushing back against progress. It’s going to be a long and bitter struggle to put an end to global apartheid. Here in Iceland, we’re doing the best we can do. We have our own struggles, but they aren’t against our refugees. Our struggles are against deeply entrenched, institutionalised racism, corporate elites who hold the bottom line supreme above compassion, and culture warriors who offer hate in patriotic trimmings.
On the other hand, as we’ve shown, the vast majority of the country wants more refugees. They have organised to pressure those in charge to make this happen, and it’s having an effect. We do this not because we are starry-eyed, utopian Pollyannas who need your condescending bullshit warnings about what will happen to Iceland if we accept more refugees. We do this because we’ve done it before, we became better people because of it, and we are going to do it again. Deal with it.