Published November 23, 2016
A petition calling for a family to be granted asylum was handed over to Ministry of the Interior officials today. The family’s deportation was postponed by Child Protective Services, and both the legal status of the children and existing legislation could help them stay in the country.
The Grapevine was present at the handing-over of the petition, which has gathered over 5,000 signatures in just a few days.
Ragnhildur Hjaltadóttir, the manager of the Ministry, received the petition. While emphasising that the Ministry is not involved in this part of the process, she assured attendees that the petition will be handed over to “relevant parties”, and that a response should be pending “in the next few days.”
However, organisers say that police are still on standby to deport this family, and have not been given any orders to stand down while the case is being examined further. As such, the family is reportedly fearful of receiving another late night visit from the police to deport them.
As reported, the family in question have been in Iceland over two years now, and have two children – aged eight months and 2 years – both of whom were born in Iceland. A video of their attempted deportation last week spread like wildfire across social media, sparking sharp criticism from the general public.
Ombudsman for Children Margrét María Sigurðardóttir told RÚV hat 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 Árnason, a lawyer defending the family, 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.
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.