From Iceland — Government Gearing Up To Accept More Refugees

Government Gearing Up To Accept More Refugees

Published August 31, 2015

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Haukur Már Helgason

The Prime Minister announced he will soon form a special committee to re-assess how many refugees Iceland will accept and how. Meanwhile, an MP from the opposition has criticised the government for relying on “alms” to solve the problem while eschewing responsibility from themselves.

In a radio interview on Bylgjan this morning, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson called the situation of refugees seeking asylum in Europe “one of the greatest challenges of modern times”, and one that Iceland must also be a part of. To this end, he announced that he will form a committee of ministers to examine and assess how Iceland can help. He did not name a specific number of refugees Iceland could accept.

As reported, public support has been quickly growing to accept more refugees to Iceland. Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðardóttir, upon whom the situation ultimately rests, 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.”

This led to a public outpouring of support, especially evident in the creation of a Facebook group called “Dear Eylgó Harðar”. Already, over 10,000 people have Liked the page, with many Icelanders publicly offering clothing, food, work and even places to live for the refugees Iceland welcomes, however many they may be.

However, Social Democrat MP Árni Páll Árnason has cautioned that the government cannot rely solely on volunteerism to solve the problem.

“It is certainly important that the general public support the welcoming of refugees through volunteer work, as there is a rich tradition of such in this country,” he wrote. “But the government cannot ignore its responsibilities in the acceptance of refugees, as the minister is doing. This is a societal mission, but not one that is possible to complete based on alms alone.”

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