Hundreds of Icelanders, including some members of parliament, turned out today to protest the impending deportations of two asylum seeker families. The protest, “Not In Our Name”, was organised in part by Solaris, an asylum seeker rights group founded by Sema Erla Serdar. Amongst the hundreds in attendance were Left-Green chair Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Pirate Party MP Björn Leví Gunnarsson. The cases of the families have struck a nerve with the Icelandic public, in part because they concern young children, and also because the legality of the deportation decisions is questionable at best.
The protest featured music, speeches imploring compassion and the rule of law, and author Kristín Eiríksdóttir reading a poem written by her mother. Below are some clips from the scene (Article continues after video):
The first family facing deportation is Abrahim Maleki and his 11-year-old daughter Haniye. Abrahim has been on the run from Afghanistan for the past 20 years now, and Haniye was born a refugee with no legal national status. They face persecution and almost certain death in their native country. Despite the fact that the Immigration Appeals Board ruled that the father and daughter are in a precarious position, the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) has nonetheless ruled to deport them.
The second case concerns Joy, Mary and Sunday, asylum seekers from Nigeria. Mary is eight years old, and currently attending school for the first time in her life. Mary, her mother, is a survivor of human trafficking who managed to escape her situation and Sunday, Mary’s father, has fled armed conflict in his home country. During their flight, they have dealt with threats and persecution, and for a time lived on the streets of Italy, begging for food. While immigration authorities determined they were in too precarious a position to be sent back to Italy, they nonetheless came to the conclusion that they did not qualify for asylum. They now face deportation to Nigeria, a country where Mary has never lived.
Numerous people have pointed out that Iceland has encoded in its laws the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Refugee Convention, all of which directly or indirectly prohibit deportations of this nature.
In addition, in 2007 the Icelandic parliament overwhelmingly approved a parliamentary measure to adopt the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, ratified in Warsaw in 2005.
As such, the deportation decisions are arguably illegal.
Grapevine caught up with Sema, and asked what inspired forming this protest:
“First and foremost, because we are talking about children,” she told us. “We are talking about two young girls, 8 years old and 11 years old, who were born refugees and have been refugees all their lives. They have finally found a safe haven here in Iceland, and Icelandic authorities have decided to deport them. And that’s unacceptable. It’s inhuman, and it’s cruel. We’re talking about children. There’s more than enough room for them here.”
When we brought up both the Icelandic laws and the international agreements that are supposed to prevent such deportations, we asked Sema how it is then that immigration authorities can get away with it:
“I think we’re showing here today that they won’t get away with it,” Sema replied. “Obviously, we are breaking the rights of the children. We are breaking laws, we are breaking international agreements, and we are breaking most things that come close to us as human beings. We’ve already delivered 15,000 signatures to the Ministry of Justice. We have hundreds of people here today. And we will not stop until we hopefully end this deportation and they will be allowed to stay here, because that’s obviously what the people of Iceland want. We have sent a clear message to authorities and hopefully they will change their minds.”