Published December 8, 2016
For every story we at Grapevine run about asylum seekers and refugees in Iceland, it seems there will almost always be a small but loud contingent of commenters who seem to think people fleeing war zones are a threat to Icelandic society. As these same talking points keep bobbing up again and again, we thought it might be a good idea to put some of the most common refugee myths to rest, once and for all.
Bear in mind this list is not going to shut down trolls. Actual racists will ignore facts, so don’t expect them to get woke by reading this. Rather, this list is for the benefit of everyone else reading the comments, wherever they may be.
Myth 1: “If you let Muslims into your country, everything will go to hell!”
There are already about 1,600 Muslims living in Iceland; hundreds of them registered in official Islamic organisations, and many more estimated to be living their daily lives here. Proportionately speaking, this is about 0.6% of the population (bear in mind Muslims comprise about 1% of the population of the US). They’ve been here for decades. Iceland leans towards the monocultural, but we’re not that isolated. During these decades of Muslims living in Iceland, we have had exactly zero terrorist attacks, zero incidences of open proselytizing (from Muslims, anyway), and zero incidences wherein Muslims targeted non-Muslims for any kind of violence. At the same time, Iceland’s language and culture continue to grow and thrive.
Myth 2: “Look at what happened in Sweden!!!”
Anyone who trots out this meme is really showing their hand. Sweden has been used as a right-wing boogieman for years: a negative example of the consequences of feminism, socialism, and now multiculturalism. Critics of these concepts cherry-pick isolated incidences at best, and proffer flat-out lies at worst (e.g. that whole thing about “there are Muslim neighbourhoods in Sweden that the police are afraid to enter” that turned out to be completely false), in order to simultaneously insult Swedes and Muslims alike. Leave Sweden out of it.
Myth 3: “Islam is not compatible with democracy and tolerance. The whole point of the faith is to conquer others.”
The funny thing about this one is that most people who put this idea forward have never actually met any Muslims in a western country—or any country for that matter. Which makes sense, because if they had, they would know that refugees and asylum seekers from Muslim countries came here specifically because there is democracy and human rights here. These are people who felt it was necessary to abandon their home countries, leave behind friends and family, pay thousands of dollars to a smuggler, and go through the agonising asylum process—all because they wanted to live in a democratic country that much. They are, statistically speaking, amongst the least likely people to engage in violence against civilians and the state. You should be so lucky to live amongst refugees; the vast majority of terrorist attacks, and the deadliest ones at that, are perpetrated by home-grown extremists. And not all of them are Muslim, either (e.g. Anders Breivik).
Myth 4: “Asylum seekers and refugees can’t even prove who they are, or if their stories are true.”
People who say this clearly have no familiarity whatsoever with the asylum process. Most asylum seekers in Iceland do, in fact, have documentation that backs up their stories—news clippings, official documents, judicial decisions and more can be a part of an asylum seeker’s case file. Unfortunately, the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) often chooses not to even open an asylum seeker’s case file, especially if they believe they can deport this person based on the Dublin Regulation: an international agreement which gives signatory states the power (although by no means the obligation) to deport asylum seekers back to their previous point of departure. If anything, the burden of proof is on UTL to show that they examined a case thoroughly before deciding a person doesn’t deserve asylum. It’s true that there are often documentation holes in the stories asylum seekers bring forth, but this by itself does not prove deliberate deception is at play. Corrupt and war-torn countries very often “lose documentation,” either through purposeful cover-ups, or because the building holding said records was bombed. By us.
Myth 5: “Look out for incidences of rape and sexual assault increasing with refugees and asylum seekers.”
Literally nothing supports this claim. It is based on two fundamental misunderstandings. The first concerns Sweden (poor Sweden!) again, in that in recent years they have revised their legal definition of rape and sexual assault to be much broader. As a result, reported incidences of sexual assaults increased. Monoculturalists, perhaps unaware that correlation does not imply causation, pair this with the numbers of refugees to Sweden to show that there is a connection when none exists. The second is that racial profiling by the police is very much a thing in Scandinavia, and as such, refugees are overrepresented in crime statistics in general.
Myth 6: “Why don’t they fix things in their own country/pick a country closer to their home country?”
The simplistic “why don’t they fix things in their own country” is especially rich when it comes from Americans—the descendants of refugees who fled religious persecution in their home countries, rather than trying to stay and “fix” things. Moreover, have you seen Syria lately? Try going over there and attempting to “fix things.” Some people are more concerned about saving their lives, and the lives of their families, than engaging in civil war. As to why asylum seekers and refugees don’t choose countries closer to home: guess what? The vast majority of them do. The countries with the greatest numbers and proportions of refugees are Muslim countries, most of these refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. Further, other countries in Europe—such as Greece, Italy and Germany—are already packed full of refugees living in terrible conditions, thanks in part to other countries using the Dublin Regulation to send people backwards in the system.
Myth 7: “Iceland should take care of its elderly/disabled/children/poor first.”
This one comes up a lot in discussions amongst right-leaning Icelanders, too. It poses a false dilemma, of course; nobody ever raises objections to further funding for the universities because the hospital needs money, too, or vice versa. We have budgets specifically because we recognise that there are multiple things that ought to be paid for simultaneously. Second, there is an argument to be made that deporting people is actually more expensive than granting asylum. One thing is for sure: the costs of housing asylum seekers would be considerably lower if they were allowed to work—something every single asylum seeker that Grapevine has spoken with has expressed the desire to do, even though the law expressly forbids it. Effectively, asylum seekers are not a drain on our resources; UTL itself is.
Myth 8: “They don’t want to integrate. You’re going to have ghettos!”
Categorically false. Refugees who are expressly invited to Iceland are set up with housing within their municipalities, put in contact with employers, get their kids registered in school, and are signed up for Icelandic classes. Asylum seekers, while lacking this kind of social support network, are steadfast in their desire to work in Iceland—to pay taxes, to learn the language, to make friends with Icelanders, and do all the other great stuff the rest of us do every day. What does create ghettos is social apartheid: when you house asylum seekers apart from locals, when you won’t let them work, when you provide absolutely no help to gain a footing in the country. Without that support, immigrants tend to fall back on their own communities and isolate themselves from everyone else. It’s Immigration 101 stuff.
A discussion about immigration is important, but to have that discussion, we need to be clear on what the facts of the matter actually are.