Mayor Gísli Halldór Halldórsson wrote us a letter, in response to our asking him to comment on Ísafjarðarbær’s declaration that it wanted to host refugees. Here it is:
A Letter From The Mayor Of Ísafjarðarbær
-Or: Why we will gladly welcome refugees to our community
Last week, the municipal government of Ísafjarðarbær (where I serve as mayor) made a declaration on behalf of the community it serves. We declared that we, the people of Ísafjarðarbær, are ready and willing to welcome refugees to our town and host them to the best of our abilities. It is our civic duty, and it is a show of social responsibility.
The municipality of Ísafjarðarbær hosts a good-natured and child-friendly community, with a variety of qualities that anyone should find appealing, not the least those who are tasked with starting a new life. Our infrastructure is sturdy, and the closeness of our tight-knit community enables us to offer a steady and warm hand to those in need—to those who would entrust us with their future.
We are also experienced. Ísafjarðarbær accepted thirty refugees from the Balkans in 1996 (which proportionately equals the number of Syrian refugees Germany plans to admit). The endeavour was such a success that it became the basis of a model for subsequent refugee arrivals to Iceland.
The key to this success was the direct and active participation of many of our townspeople. Local support families volunteered and were consequently trained and educated in preparation for the refugees’ arrival, ready to welcome them to a new home and a fresh start. Every family of refugees was assigned a support family of their own, allowing them to immediately enjoy the comfort and support network only a close group of friends can offer.
A few years later, our town’s economy failed. There was unemployment, and job opportunities were few and far between. Fortunately, after successfully integrating into our community, the refugees were well prepared to relocate to anywhere they wished. Success!
Some eventually chose to return to the places they fled once the situation allowed for it. The rest are spread all over Iceland. All these years later, they have become a vital part of the Icelandic nation, while those who left still foster close ties to our country.
Our community’s experience of accepting a group of thirty refugees in 1996 was a pleasant and rewarding one. Indeed, many of those who played a part in welcoming that group regularly express a sincere interest in repeating the project. They have retained the knowledge, experience and expertise that accumulated in the process—it is preserved within our local Red Cross chapter, our social services and among the many volunteers who pitched in, serving as support families or otherwise.
We, the people of Ísafjarðarbær have much to offer—and it seems that at the moment, much is needed. Our neighbouring municipalities have furthermore pledged to work with us in this effort, should we be called upon.
It is in light of our positive prior experiences with accepting refugees, in tune with our civic duties, and out of our shared sense of social responsibility that we foster a sincere will to help in any which way we can, and do our part.