Interior Ministry Confirms: No Volunteers Or Journalists For Asylum Seekers - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Interior Ministry Confirms: No Volunteers Or Journalists For Asylum Seekers

Published June 28, 2016

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Citing “humanitarian reasons”, the Interior Ministry has confirmed UTL’s policy of forbidding volunteers and journalists from visiting asylum seekers where they live – even if the asylum seekers themselves invited them.

Stundin reports that the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the Directorate of Immigration (UTL), has confirmed UTL’s policy of forbidding volunteers or journalists from meeting with asylum seekers at any of the number of shelters provided for them.

The Ministry, in a written response to Stundin, said that the policy is in place to “ensure the conditions and security” of the asylum seekers in question, regardless if one or more asylum seekers invited volunteers or journalists to visit them.

“The Ministry believes the aforementioned rule does not, in any way, limit the access of asylum seekers to the media or their relationship with society in general,” the statement says in part. “The security of applicants for international protection is critical, and stems from an important humanitarian point of view.”

As reported earlier this month, private security guards are often in place to prevent entry at these shelters, and in some cases, volunteers have been threatened with police action. Some of these shelters are situated in areas where it is difficult to reach the capital or other towns without the use of a car.

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.

Related:

It’s Time To Close The Directorate Of Immigration

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