From Iceland — Leaving The Church For Helping Asylum Seekers

Leaving The Church For Helping Asylum Seekers

Published July 7, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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A local police chief is so upset that Laugarneskirkja church provided sanctuary to asylum seekers that he is de-registering himself from the church.

Vísir reports that Ólafur Helgi Kjartansson, the chief of police in Suðurnes, has left the church over last week’s incident, wherein Laugarneskirkja church provided sanctuary to some asylum seekers facing deportation. It should be noted that the vast majority of asylum seekers to Iceland arrive via Keflavík International Airport, which is located in Suðurnes.

Ólafur has long been a defender of the national church, but he is not alone in his criticism. Deputy state prosecutor Helgi Magnús Gunnarsson has also harshly criticised the church over the incident, accusing clergy of having stepped outside the bounds of their job descriptions, and recommending that they receive some kind of reprimand from the Bishop of Iceland.

The Bishop, for her part, has defended the event as a way of “expressing our hope that the ancient custom of church sanctuary could influence the state to change the policies regarding asylum seekers, stop the assembly-line deportations of people seeking international protection in Iceland, and instead take a responsible, meaningful stance.”

Despite the criticisms, as can be seen in the following video, at no time did any clergy or church employees prevent the police from making their arrests. Furthermore, in an interview taken just today, Rev. Toshiki Toma told The Grapevine that the asylum seekers themselves approached him for help, and that the church alerted the police to the fact that the asylum seekers were in the church – to do otherwise would have put him or others in danger of being charged with hiding fugitives from the law.

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