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Most Awesome Letter of the Issue:
When I read the Reykjavík Grapevine’s article Closed Doors, Empty Stomach, Desperate Measures about a Jewish-Iraqi refugee seeking asylum in Iceland after having hard time in Slovakia, a rather ambivalent feeling captured my mind. Well, I am from Slovakia, and at first, I felt a bit pissed off and offended about the way how my country of origin was portrayed. But then I thought it might actually be deserved.
I have a brief experience in working with asylum seekers in Slovakia and… It is not a country where you would like to end up after having run for your life from a place that once had been your home. That’s no one’s choice, it’s just the first country beyond the border. Actually, Adam is a ‘lucky’ guy. Only about 10 people are given asylum status every year here. The rest is sentenced to a choice of either spending years in refugee residences while there is very little you are allowed/able to do, or returning to their land where persecution and death awaits them. Well, and if you are fortunate enough, you are allowed to stay in this country where bureaus do nothing for your integration and people are even less open to accept you.
Let’s face it. I had a chance to spend a year, a beautiful year, in Iceland. And even I, after having returned, realized how much safer I felt on the island. Although nothing serious ever happened to me, I see those looks and I hear those words on the streets. Being a Jew from Middle East, you certainly encounter a lot of hatred and intolerance. No wonder Adam had to flee again, and he chose well. Unfortunately, I am skeptical when thinking about his experience here as persecution. However severe the situation was, it probably does not meet all the criteria. But I am not an expert, and I wish the authorities decide otherwise and allow Adam to stay.
During my year in Iceland, I met many people from all over the world and very little was known about Slovakia. At most, brief reference to Eurotrip or Hostel is made, but that’s it. And that’s why I was disappointed when I read those words, when ‘we’ finally made it to the press. Sure, the article of Benjamín Julian is very tendentious and forcibly moving, and portrayal of Slovakia somehow distorted. But there certainly is something true about it. It’s true that ‘we’ should do more for people who come to live here, who ask for help, who need to be protected.
I quite like this country. There are many things that are worth it. But there also are many that are just appalling and shameful. Adam’s story represents one of them. I want to apologize for all that negligence and harm, Adam. I just want you to know that there also are good people here. Some. It’s just that those wrong are always much up front.
thank you so much for your thoughtful and moving letter.
We understand your grief at how Slovakia is portrayed in the article (potentially confused readers: the article in question may be found online—you should read it. It is also rather moving and thoughtful). I am most certain that the article’s author was not looking to disparage Slovakia in his writing – he was merely attempting to relay Mr. Adam’s story and experiences as best he could. Every country has its negative aspects that when scrutinized are indeed shameful for its nationals—indeed, Iceland has a less than stellar track record in its treatment of asylum seekers.
Thank you for reading and for your input.
Your Friends At The Grapevine
I loved Jeff Edwards hilarious piece “Accidental Iceland” – do you have an email address for him so I can tell him myself?
Dear Laurie (if that IS your real name),
We can’t really do that. What if you’re, like, an deranged stalker from his past that’s been spending years looking for Jeff Edwards and with the intent of decapitating him and FedExing the box to Gwyneth Paltrow?
To ensure Jeff Edwards does not get beheaded, yet gets to enjoy your compliments, we have forwarded your letter his way. Maybe he’ll get back to you?
LOL – I really didn’t expect you to respond to my request—thanks! I love the Grapevine; so smart, funny, engaging and it has a great energy. Although it’s referred to as a “tourist” publication, I imagine your local readership is very high.
I’m traveling to Iceland next week for the first time and [gratefully] have found the tips I need to not come off as an Ugly American in Reykjavik by reading the Grapevine.
Thanks and best,
Your Friends At The Grapevine