Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson has been harshly criticised for Iceland’s treatment of asylum seekers. Speaking on television last night, the minister has responded by saying that his office has adopted a “new agenda” towards refugees which will improve their situation.
As Grapevine reported, the case of Iranian asylum seeker Medhi Kavyanpor has gained a great deal of national attention since he walked into the offices of the Red Cross last week, doused himself in gasoline, and threatened to ignite himself if his case was not dealt with. Kavyanpor has been in Iceland for seven years now, still waiting for an answer as to whether he will be granted asylum or deported to Iran. This is despite the fact that Iceland, as a signatory to Dublin Regulation II, is legally bound to complete the processing of an asylum seeker’s application within one year.
The focus has lately been on Ögmundur, whose office is the highest authority overseeing refugee matters. The group No Borders, in a press release, criticised the minister harshly for his initial remarks on Kavyanpor’s plight, when he said that the incident at the Red Cross was “likely based on a misunderstanding”.
In response, No Borders say, “We ask: what misunderstanding? Is it a misunderstanding that Medhi has been in a state of deadlock for the past seven years, stuck within the loopholes of the system, far from his friends and family, in conditions where he has little control over his own life and no chance of changing them anytime soon?”
Speaking on the roundtable news discussion show Kastljósið last night, Ögmundur responded to his critics, saying, “We want to move away from this strict interpretation of the law and strong connection with the labour market [with regards to asylum seekers] and open our arms on the basis of a compassionate and more socially oriented perspective.” He pointed out that new legislation on asylum seekers was passed by parliament last fall that will improve their position in Iceland, with more changes on the wings.
“It is unacceptable to have people living here in a state of uncertainty for years on end, and everyone agrees that this needs to change,” he said. “We are committed to changing this practice.”
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