From Iceland — Iceland's Justice Minister Tightens Immigration Regulations On Asylum Seekers Again

Iceland’s Justice Minister Tightens Immigration Regulations On Asylum Seekers Again

Published March 21, 2018

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen has again added further restrictions on asylum seekers, drawing criticism from the Red Cross and members of Parliament.

Stundin reports that the new regulations specifically target people seeking asylum in Iceland for health reasons. By the changes made unilaterally by the Minister, the health of asylum seekers will now have “limited weight” on whether or not authorities will grant asylum unless certain conditions are met. This includes suffering from “a severe illness that is sudden and life-threatening, the treatment for which is available here but not available in their home country.”

Ministers in Iceland have the power to write regulations for their ministries and their attendant institutions, and do not require a vote in Parliament or even disclosure. For example, Left-Green MP Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé told Stundin he was surprised to learn of the regulations, even though both he and Sigríður are in the ruling coalition.

Restricts the rights of the child

The Red Cross of Iceland has criticised the regulations, pointing out that it affects adults and children alike. “We can assume [by these regulations] that children suffering from an illness that is not considered serious enough to be sudden and life-threatening will be sent back to their previous point of departure, even though the parents will have to pay for treatment of the disease in this departure country, without any further examination of the circumstances surrounding this individual child.”

Social Democrat MP Helga Vala Helgadóttir and Left-Green MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson have also both criticised the regulations, pointing out that it marks a further restriction on the rights of the child. In point of fact, Andrés is one of Parliament’s spokespeople for children, while Kolbeinn has long advocated for the rights of asylum seekers, and has been especially critical of the Independence Party, from where Sigríður hails, on that subject.

These MPs, amongst others, have spoken in favour of forming a multipartisan committee to examine laws and regulations on foreigners and how they are enforced. An exact date for this committee has yet to be determined.

A history of new restrictions on asylum seekers

Sigríður has been often criticised for placing further and unnecessary restrictions on immigrants, especially asylum seekers, often doing so unilaterally. As just one example, she stripped asylum seekers of financial support while they await deportation if their applications have been rejected. As almost all asylum seekers are banned by law from working, and deportation waiting periods can stretch into weeks and months, this drew considerable criticism from the Left-Greens.

However, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, the parliamentary chair of the Left-Green Party, told reporters last January that this would be one of many matters the aforementioned review committee would examine. That committee still has yet to be formed, and even further restrictions on the rights of asylum seekers have been set up in the meantime.

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