From Iceland — A Matter Of Life And Death: The Sad, Strange Case Of Eze Okafor

A Matter Of Life And Death: The Sad, Strange Case Of Eze Okafor

Published June 2, 2016

A Matter Of Life And Death: The Sad, Strange Case Of Eze Okafor
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Paul Fontaine

As I write this, Nigerian asylum seeker Eze Okafor is on the streets of Sweden. He owns little more than the clothes on his back, has nowhere to sleep, and barring some kind of authoritative intervention, will soon be sent back to Nigeria, where Boko Haram — who murdered his brother and badly wounded him — will in all likelihood find and kill him. Last week, he was in Iceland, as he had been for the past four years, celebrating with his many friends the decision of the Immigration Appeals Board that he could no longer be deported. So what the hell happened?

What happened was the Directorate of Immigration disagreed with the Appeals Board, had him arrested immediately, and put him on a plane to Sweden the next day.

One could be forgiven for wondering how the Directorate could defy the Appeals Board, a body specifically created for those prospective new Icelanders who want to plead their case to a higher authority. The Directorate would tell you it’s because the Appeals Board merely gave their opinion — not a definitive ruling. This contention is questionable at best: having read both the Appeals Board’s ruling and the Directorate’s response, it is difficult for me to read the Appeals Board’s “opinion” as anything but definitive. How then can the Directorate get away with it?

The short answer is: because no one holds them accountable. For example:

When Directorate head Kristín Völundardóttir told reporters in 2013 that asylum seekers included those who are essentially tourists looking for free food and shelter, former Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson did nothing, despite the fact that she had no evidence for her claims and never apologised for them. When the Parliamentary Ombudsman told the Directorate last year to provide evidence for how they process asylum seeker cases, the response deadline came and went in total silence. When it was found last March that the Directorate had actually broken the law in the case of a Vietnamese couple falsely accused of having a “fake” marriage, again no apology was issued. When they attempted to squash a story national broadcasting system RÚV was running on asylum seekers last month, by threatening reporters with the police and issuing an unconstitutional ban on interviewing asylum seekers in Iceland – crickets. And now that the Directorate has defied their own higher authority, current Minister of the Interior Ólöf Nordal is refusing to offer any kind of explanation.

The Directorate can do what it does because everyone they answer to is ignoring the elephant in the room: the Directorate is broken, arbitrary, horribly managed and insulated from criticism.

I have on occasion been asked why it is that, when I cover asylum seeker issues, I speak primarily with activists. This is sometimes accompanied by accusations of bias. Putting aside that “bias” is a strange accusation to make when it comes to how to report on an illegal deportation to almost certain death, there’s actually just one reason why most of my sources for asylum seeker stories are activists: because they provide a sizeable amount of information, legal documentation, and contacts. Try asking a Directorate official for a comment on any given asylum seeker, and you will get the same stock response: “We cannot comment on individual cases.” This pat response is tiresome and frustrating, but is a testament to the calcified nature of the Directorate.

The strangest part of all this is that the Icelandic people themselves are decidedly more progressive when it comes to asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants than the Directorate itself. In addition, there are a significant number of Icelanders willing to get themselves arrested in order to stop the Directorate. You wonder just how far things need to go before someone, anyone in the halls of Parliament stands up and makes some real changes.

Eze Okafor can’t afford to wait for the practically geological timeframe of political change in this country. He needs to be brought back home, to Iceland. Otherwise, he may very well soon join the ranks of the many people whose lives have been destroyed by the Directorate of Immigration.

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