The Icelandic government could begin taking steps to abide international law where the treatment of refugees is concerned, if a bill currently in parliamentary committee passes as is.
Stundin reports that the committee, representing all parliamentary parties and operating under the leadership of Bright Future MP Óttar Proppé, has finished a draft of a bill proposing numerous changes to the Act On Foreigners.
Amongst those changes is that Iceland would stop arresting asylum seekers who arrive with false or altered documentation. Currently, asylum seekers who do arrive under these conditions are immediately arrested and taken into custody for up to 30 days.
This practice has been harshly criticised by the Red Cross, UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and not just because many if not most asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries do not have proper documentation, given their circumstances – the practice is also against international law.
As the Baltic and Nordic Regional Representative for UNHCR, Pia Prytz Phiri, pointed out in 2013, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly states:
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.
“I want to make it very clear that [the UNHCR] considers this unjustifiable,” she said at the time. “It is plainly stated that you cannot punish refugees for illegally entering a country.”
Many of the other changes the committee are proposing seek to simplify and streamline the immigration process, which is notoriously complicated and confusing.
The bill is expected to be submitted to the parliamentary floor after parliament convenes this autumn.