Published February 6, 2015
Every now and again, we’ll get letters from immigrants to Iceland. A lot of the time, those letters will relay stories of horrible treatment those immigrants have received at the hand of unscrupulous locals.
After years of receiving such missives, it has become evident that Iceland is apparently rife with businesses and individuals—restaurants, bars, contractors, guesthouses, farms, fish factories, landlords, etc.—who jump at every opportunity to take advantage of others, mistreating them for financial gain or to sate some perverted lust for domination.
Sure, immigrants can make for some easy targets. They are often unaware of their rights—and no one seems particularly excited about offering that information—on top of lacking experience, status and connections. Not to mention the language barrier.
This might be a sad side effect of capitalism, A Fact Of Life. Still, it’s disconcerting to witness the inherent lack of empathy and common decency that enables those in power to mercilessly exploit fellow humans. Sickening, even.
Aside from them undermining our faith in our fellow Icelanders, perhaps the worst thing about receiving those letters is the fact that the people sending them will almost never entertain the notion of allowing us to publish them or coming forward with their stories, except under pseudonym. Because they are insecure. Because they feel threatened.
Below, you may read one such letter, which we received just the other day. Whoever sent it asked that we not publish their name. Because they fear retaliation. And we will respect that.
If any of you reading this are guilty of exploiting, please, just stop. Be decent. Your ugly behaviour is demeaning all of us.
I Refuse To Accept Being Treated Differently
Iceland is a place full of beautiful people—who doesn‘t know about its cultural beauty? Björk, Sigur Rós, volcanos, mountains, landscapes and many other heavenly things.
Coming here is like going to a magical bubble where everything can be done or reached, and I am a lucky person to be able be in this bubble. But it has its very serious downsides.
Amongst many migrants, I am automatically treated differently in my daily life and especially on a working level, based on my looks or my lack of fluent spoken Icelandic.
My work experience has been quite challenging: many things are different from where I come from and of course it varies from business to business. Both sides could profit a lot from these diverse knowledges and skills.
But, for example, the fact that we cannot talk about our salaries to know where we stand is highly questionable. This should be reviewed immediately, because this leaves space for people in power to pay unequal salaries and treat you badly and unfairly if they want to. And it is a tool to keep you down, to prevent you from organising.
I say this because after I sent my resignation letter to my workplace the owner of the bars and restaurants I worked for came to me the first time to talk to me.
He accused me of badmouthing and told me that my salary, as low as it is, is due to the fact of me not speaking Icelandic, which in my eyes, is straight-up, in-your-face RACIST!
Many foreigners suffer the same path, coming from many different backgrounds, moving here for many reasons and having to deal with the fact of structural racism.
As soon as you look different, talk different, know different you will be facing the structural exploitation of migrant labor.
I have tried to talk to some of my Icelandic friends and family members but they don‘t know what to do, what to say, or where to go to address this massive problem.
Therefore, I stand here to refuse to be treated differently based on my race. I demand my economic rights. Everyone has bills, everyone pays taxes the same way as I do. So why should WE, based on where we were born or how we look, be treated inferior?
It‘s time for us migrants to take a stand and demand our economic rights!
I refuse to be treated differently.