Published April 10, 2015
A survivor of domestic violence who divorced her abuser has been given 30 days to leave the country, or face deportation and a return ban of 2 years. A protest has been planned demanding she be allowed to stay in Iceland.
Amanda Wood, who in 2013 filed for divorce from her abusive ex-husband (which was not granted until 2015), was visited by the police on Wednesday evening and informed she had 30 days to leave the country. If she does not, she was told, she will be arrested and put on a plane leaving Iceland. She will then be forbidden to return for the next two years.
Her ex-husband, an Icelandic citizen, failed to legally register her in Iceland when they were married in 2011, as the law requires. Upon arriving in Iceland in 2012, Amanda knew that she must register with the Directorate of Immigration but was informed that she would be unable to do so until her spouse updated his address to show that he was residing and working in Iceland. He was, however, registered as a resident of Norway, not Iceland, and had in fact not been registered as an Icelandic resident for 7 years. As such, this left her vulnerable to deportation, even if the grounds for divorcing him were domestic abuse: if an Icelandic citizen is not registered in Iceland, then his/her spouse cannot legally register, either, and has none of the rights afforded to Icelandic residents.
Days after speaking to the Grapevine and the Icelandic media about her story, Amanda received notice of her impending deportation. She immediately contacted the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, and told the Grapevine she spoke with the committee’s chairperson, Hjörtur Bragi Sverrisson, who was involved in the deportation decision.
“Special Ties” Required
“He said I can appeal to the courts but that I will not be allowed to stay in the country while I do so,” Amanda told the Grapevine. “He said that yes I was denied for not having enough ties to the country and when I asked what constitutes as having enough ties he told me that had I lived here for five to ten years that that maybe could have helped but he didn’t know for sure, if I had family here it would maybe help me but that overall it is not crystal clear in the law as to what makes up enough ties to the country so they just decide on their own. I asked what determines a special circumstances case and he said, ‘I don’t know but yours isn’t.'”
The Grapevine reached Hjörtur for comment, who told us that while he “cannot comment on individual cases, as this information is strictly confidential,” he did elaborate on what constitutes having special ties to Iceland.
“There are different ways a person can be connected to Iceland,” he told us. “This would include how long someone has been living here. It is not clear how long exactly, but anything less than two years would normally not be considered. There may be situations where that would be deemed as enough. You could also have family members here, immediate and extended, or have been working in Iceland.”
Hjörtur agreed that this leaves room for discretion, but pointed out the Interior Ministry’s guidelines for how special ties are assessed. He added that decisions regarding cases such as Amanda’s are decided by the board as a whole, which is comprised of three members.
Nowhere to turn
“I have been in Iceland since October 2012, and have surpassed the two-year period,” Amanda told us. “Hjörtur said they only have my side of it and the law says I have to go so I don’t get to have it looked at another way. I told him that my ex won’t even speak to the police about his case so if he is refusing to respond to the authorities in Iceland is that not taken into consideration and he said no. He also told me it is legal to make me leave the country even with an open police investigation. I was advised that I can appeal to the courts in Iceland with a lawyer but that I cannot stay while it is being done and that I just need to talk to someone else.”
In response, a demonstration is planned for noon Saturday, April 18, to be held on Austurvöllur, in front of parliament. Amanda encourages the general public to attend, in support of hers and similar cases.
In an appeal to the general public and Icelandic authorities, Amanda told us the following:
“I didn’t come to Iceland with the intentions of living here illegally or trying to use the system. I married a man who did not present his true nature to me and I’ve suffered the consequences of this. Regardless of the physical abuse, the fact remains that he knowingly and wilfully kept me in Iceland illegally by refusing to update his information with the government regarding the fact that we had relocated back to the country.
“At this time, I am being told that even though he broke the law, I am the one who must pay the consequences even though I have done nothing but try to resolve the issue honestly and according to the guidelines laid out by the Icelandic government regarding it’s immigration policy.
“The fact that I am to be deported and left homeless when my entire life is in Iceland tells me that the Icelandic law supports its citizens harbouring illegal spouses and will do naught to punish them. Instead, they will allow their law to support deporting the victims in order to avoid dealing with a difficult situation and bringing about a change to the law to protect those who suffer through this situation.”