Published November 17, 2016
Iceland’s Ombudsman for Children expressed sadness at the sight of an attempted deportation of an asylum seeker family, and the legal status of the children in involved – both of whom were born in Iceland – was a matter of special attention.
Ombudsman for Children Margrét María Sigurðardóttir and lawyer Árni Freyr Árnason, who is defending the family, were guests on last night’s episode of roundtable news discussion show Kastljósið, where the topic of discussion was an asylum seeker family whose attempted deportation was caught on video. The family includes two children, aged eight months and two years, both of whom were born in Iceland.
Margrét says that she was “alarmed” by the footage, adding that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to everyone, and Iceland can make no exceptions. Article 3 of this Convention is of special pertinence to this case, i.e., “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
This provision is not only encoded in Icelandic law; Iceland’s Act on Foreigners explicitly states that “a foreigner born in Iceland, who has since resided permanently and continuously in Iceland, cannot [be] denied entry to Iceland or expelled from Iceland”.
In a statement to the press, the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) have argued that the children of asylum seekers are not covered by this law. This, they contend, is because asylum seekers do not receive “legal residency” in Iceland unless their cases are closed with a positive decision, and this applies to their children as well – even if they were born here.
Árni Freyr disagrees with this interpretation, saying that the children in question are with Icelandic identity numbers and registered addresses at the National Registry, and are therefore covered by the law. Further, Iceland’s Law on Legal Residency defines “legal residence” as a place where a person has a permanent and continuous residency for no less than six months.
This policy has already been harshly criticised by UNICEF and Red Cross in Iceland, and has sparked public protest. A petition is now being circulated that calls upon the Government Agency for Child Protection to file charges against UTL for putting children in danger, and another petition has called upon authorities to grant the family asylum, which already has over 3,000 signatures.
In fact, most Icelanders disagree strongly with the government’s asylum seeker and refugee policies. A recent poll from RÚV showing that about 73% of Icelanders believe the government should actually be accepting more refugees. Another poll from RÚV showed that, in addition, 70% of Icelanders are against making asylum regulations stricter.