From Iceland — Volunteers Forbidden From Visiting Asylum Seekers

Volunteers Forbidden From Visiting Asylum Seekers

Published June 9, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

An immigration official told one volunteer the visits are banned because “making their home lives easier is not on offer.”

Stundin reports that volunteers who attempt to visit any of the group homes housing asylum seekers have been banned from these locations. Private security guards are often in place to prevent entry, and in some cases, volunteers have been threatened with police action.

This ban is in effect despite the fact that the asylum seekers in question have given their consent to be visited. In fact, last Easter security guards at the Arnarholt facility for asylum seekers tossed out volunteers who had arrived to distribute Easter eggs and play football.

One volunteer reportedly received an email from Davíð Jón Kristjánsson, a project manager at the Directorate of Immigration (UTL), which stated that “making [asylum seeker] home lives easier is not on offer.” Davíð also expressed concerns that just because an asylum seeker gets a visit from a volunteer does not mean all of them want one. The reasoning is curious, given that each asylum seeker visited has agreed to such a visit beforehand.

This is not the first time UTL has forbidden the general public from speaking with asylum seekers. As reported, RÚV’s news analysis show Hæpið recently paid a visit to Arnarholt, in the hopes of interviewing the residents on their experiences so far. This interview was cut short by a security guard, who told them that the faces of asylum seekers appearing in public will automatically result in their asylum applications being denied. The reporters in question, Katrín Ásmundsdóttir and Unnstein Manuel Stefánsson, were also threatened with police action if they did not leave at once, despite having express permission from the asylum seekers involved to be interviewed.

(Video source: Nútíminn)

Stundin reports that, according to their sources, UTL contacted RÚV shortly after this incident. Rather than issuing an apology, UTL instead demanded that the footage not be aired.

When contacted for comment, UTL Director Kristín Völundardóttir affirmed that they did try to suppress the release of the footage, citing “privacy issues” as the reason.

UTL has been under sustained criticism for their treatment of asylum seekers. While Kristín contends that UTL is just following the law, the institution has applied the law inconsistently, sometimes even contrary to international agreements on refugees and asylum seekers. UTL has handled many cases questionably enough to warrant the Parliamentary Ombudsman to launch a formal inquiry.

For her part, Kristín has gone on the record saying that asylum seekers include people who engage in “asylum shopping”; traveling from country to country looking for the most benefits they can get, and that it is “a very attractive bonus to get free food and shelter” while waiting on an asylum application to be processed. Kristín has never offered evidence for this claim, nor apologised or retracted it.


It’s Time To Close The Directorate Of Immigration

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