Published February 21, 2017
Reykjanes District Court took into consideration changes made to immigration law, which went into effect last January 1, when sentencing an asylum seeker to 30 days probation for arriving in Iceland on a false passport last September.
Up until now, courts have typically sentenced asylum seekers who arrive on a false passport to serve prison time for this offense. However, it has been pointed out since at least 2013 that to do so is in violation of Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, of which Iceland is a contracting state, in that “[t]he Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Pia Prytz Phiri, the Baltic and Nordic Regional Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), brought the matter to light when she visited Iceland at that time. Furthermore, the Icelandic Red Cross has also repeatedly condemned the practice, with the Director of the Icelandic Prison Service, Páll Winkel, going so fas as to tell reporters that the practice is “completely futile” and unfair.
“Each year, between 25 and 50 people come here for fifteen days and are then thrown out. This serves absolutely no purpose. We cannot take care of these people. Most often they are unable to speak so we cannot provide them with any assistance,” Páll said, and expressed his doubts as to whether “people in Afghanistan know if people are imprisoned for fifteen days in Iceland if they travel on false passports. That is completely futile and the reasoning of those who want to preserve this system, let alone toughen it — well, I’d like to see it.”
With the change made to Icelandic law, Iceland will now finally abide the international agreement of which it is a part.