Iceland Sees Surge In Public Support For More Asylum Seekers - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Iceland Sees Surge In Public Support For More Asylum Seekers

Published August 30, 2015

Photos by
Defense Visual Information Center/Wikimedia Commons

Icelanders across the political spectrum are showing increasing support for accepting more refugees than the government originally planned.

The Icelandic government recently announced it was prepared to accept up to 50 refugees over the next two years from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. However, popular support – from the left and the right alike – is increasingly calling upon the government to welcome more refugees than this, and the government appears to be listening.

Iceland’s larger municipalities have recently said they would welcome more new arrivals, some of whom have already taken in refugees and report good experiences with them. Shortly after these municipal announcements were made, a Facebook group imploring the Icelandic government to take in 5,000 refugees was formed. Within a few days, it has already amassed over 7,000 signatures.

At the same time, voices within the opposition parties of parliament have spoken up to increase the quota. The Left-Greens have called the proposed 50-person quota “shamefully small”, and say this figure must be reviewed, while Bright Future also want to see this figure increased. The Pirate Party, for their part, already support granting equal rights to asylum seekers and refugees, and do not believe they should have a different legal status than other people who move across borders. Sigríður Ingibjörg Ingadóttir, MP for the Social Democrats, has reportedly sent an e-mail to all members of parliament saying that a new proposal to bring in 500 refugees should be looked at again, and the quota possibly raised.

This call for increased responsibility does not just come from the general public and the opposition parties of parliament. MP Elín Hirst of the Independence Party also believes that “ten times more” asylum seekers than was originally proposed would be “close to acceptable.” Meanwhile, Vísir points out that, in order to have a proportionately equal refugee quota to Sweden, Iceland would need to accept 1,600 asylum seekers. While Independence Party chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson said it would be “totally unrealistic” to accept this many people, he told reporters that he does believe Iceland should “lend a helping hand” to people living with the horrors of war.

Ultimately, though, the decision does not rest with Bjarni but with Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðardóttir. She told Vísir that she does not want to set a “maximum number” of refugees that Iceland could accept. Responding to the outcry from the general public, she said, “I encourage people to get in touch with the ministry and the Red Cross and ask how they can help. People need jobs, shelter, and clothes, for example, and to learn how the banking system works. … I encourage people to get in touch with us and offer their help, because we can do a lot more.”

Many Icelanders are taking Eygló’s word literally. A photo bearing the above quote and contact information for the ministry and the Red Cross is being circulated throughout social media. Many Icelanders are reporting that they have contacted the ministry, and others have posted in a newly formed Facebook group called “Dear Eygló Harðar”, publicly offering clothing, food, work and even places to live for the refugees Iceland welcomes, however many they may be.

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