Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir dismissed concerns that Iceland’s policy towards asylum seekers is illegal and violates human rights.
Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir addressed the minister in parliament today, referring to a raid last September in which dozens of police raided a building in Kópavogur and arrested numerous Albanian asylum seekers. Birgitta also referred to recent remarks from Pia Prytz Phiri, the Baltic and Nordic Regional Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who said that Iceland is breaking international law by imprisoning asylum seekers who arrive with falsified or expired documents.
Birgitta asked the minister whether she felt human rights had been violated in the raid. Hanna dismissed any accusations of human rights abuse, DV reports, saying, “There is nothing that indicates any human rights were violated.” Rather, she says, the raid was “a necessary operation to investigate and research certain criminal activities.”
During last September’s raid, residents of the building – most of them asylum seekers from Albania – were arrested by dozens of police officers with battering rams and dogs. Many of the arrested were still in their pyjamas or underwear, not allowed to bring clothes, and were placed in solitary confinement. Damage to property, as well as personal injuries to the asylum seekers, were said to be extensive. A lawyer for the asylum seekers has vowed to file charges against the police.
Pia Prytz Phiri has been very blunt about Iceland’s treatment of asylum seekers.
“I want to make it very clear that [the UNHCR] considers this unjustifiable,” she said last month during a visit to Iceland, referring to Iceland’s practice of arresting refugees arriving with false documents. “It is plainly stated that you cannot punish refugees for illegally entering a country.”
Here she specifically cites Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, which states the following:
“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”