From Iceland — Why Can't She Stay?

Why Can’t She Stay?

Published April 8, 2011

Why Can’t She Stay?

By now many of our readers are familiar with the case of Priyanka Thapa. A young Nepalese woman who came to Iceland as an au pair for a family with two half-Nepalese children, she began studying and working in Iceland, and planned to make a future here, when her family informed her she had been slated for an arranged marriage. Priyanka refused and applied for asylum in Iceland. Although her initial application was rejected, sparking a tremendous groundswell of popular support (a Facebook page calling upon the government to let her stay has reached over 30.000 members), the Grapevine was informed at the start of this interview that the Directorate of Immigration has agreed to review her case again. We caught up with Priyanka and her host parents, Anna Lára Steingrímsdóttir and Þórólfur Gunnarsson, to learn more about the situation.
What brought you to Iceland in the first place?
Priyanka: I was looking for something that I could do that would be able to help out my family, and I heard about an Icelandic family who needed an au pair. Two of the children are half-Nepalese, so they could learn about Nepal, while it would help me by me being able to go some place new and meet new people.
The Directorate of Immigration says that you would have the freedom, in Nepal, to say “no” to this marriage, and therefore you’re not in any particular danger. This decision was supposedly based on a letter your brother wrote; that the language he used suggested you were requested—not commanded—to return to Nepal. How do you respond to that?
Þórólfur: Nepalese is a different language from what we’re used to. When you take a translation straight, word for word, from Hindi to English, you actually end up confusing people who read it with our thoughts and ideas. To base [The Directorate of Immigration decision] on one word [“væntanlega”, implying an expectation] that was put in there, it’s just—from all of these letters, from all the material that’s in there, we found it really odd that they actually picked that word, that can be mean quite a lot of different things.
P: It was not a request. It was like, I have to [marry this person]. There was no “Maybe you should do that” or something. There were no other options.
Þ: I think Útlendingastofnun should have taken the entire context of the letter into account, instead of focusing on just this one word.
Can you explain what, exactly, awaits you if you were to be sent back to Nepal?
P: A man, whom I have never even seen, I have to go and marry him, just because he’s going to help my family. That’s a deal between them. When I came here, there was no talk of this at all. If I were to go back there, my family would not allow me to say no.
I understand you’re now seeking citizenship. Do you see yourself spending the rest of your life in Iceland?
P: After I came here, I started dreaming, and started seeing my future in a different way. I never thought I would study and further my education, but after coming here, I have made a goal of what I want to do with my life. I want to study something based on chemistry, pharmaceutical studies.
What do you think of the out-pouring of support you’ve been getting from the general public?
P: When I first heard the news [of being denied asylum], I was always crying, but after seeing the support of the people, I think I’m not going back. It’s so amazing how Icelandic people have supported me, and welcomed me with open arms. But also, they don’t judge people based on where they come from; they judge you based on what you are and what you are heading towards. In Nepal, people judge you based on what your caste is, what your background is, how much money you have. There is no equality between background and caste; everything is discrimination. If my husband dies, or leaves me, I have no right to be with another man, but he can be with another woman.
You may have heard that there are some very wealthy individuals who have also applied for citizenship—they say they will invest millions of dollars in Iceland if it is given to them. What do you think of the idea of “buying” citizenship? Is this fair to poorer people, who also want to be Icelandic citizens?
P: When someone asks for citizenship, I think the first thing [the government] should ask is, “Who needs it most? Who is really a needy person?” We have been honest in everything, from the start. And I think, honesty wins in the end, because honesty is the best policy.
And how about you, the host parents—what are your thoughts on this?
Anna Lára: When we got to know her, we really grew to like her a lot. So when we heard about the situation, and what was going to happen, we of course couldn’t accept that. We couldn’t see her future like that. She’s a very clever girl, hard-working and ambitious. If she wasn’t like that, we wouldn’t be here now. It’s been our fight, and we’re really optimistic, especially after the newest news.
Þ: The newest news was a decision was made about three hours ago, based on some new documents we sent to UTL. Basically, we’re going to send in the same application, only with some new documents, and they are going to re-evaluate her application. After what we’ve gone through, I think it’s absolutely crucial in this situation to have some lawyers assist with the initial application. The people at [the law offices] Réttur have been doing a seriously good job. Hopefully we’ll get that answer quickly, but it can take up to 90 days. Based on the support we’ve been getting, this is just unbelievable. We are very optimistic.

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