From Iceland — Not Enough Done To Help Refugee Women In Icelandic Labour Market, Study Finds

Not Enough Done To Help Refugee Women In Icelandic Labour Market, Study Finds

Published December 27, 2018

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Screenshot: Konur á flótta/UN Women Ísland

Refugee women are the most marginalised group in the Icelandic labour market, according to a new study from the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland (SGS), Kjarninn reports.

SGS conducted its research in the wake of the #MeToo testimonies of women of foreign origin in Iceland last year. These testimonies underlined the fact that foreign women are amongst the most marginalised groups in the country, prompting SGS to conduct a series of interviews with women in Iceland who originally hail from Thailand, the Philippines, Syria and Poland.

Amongst the positives that these interviews brought to light was that labour unions have been serving these women well. However, that is largely dependent upon these women knowing labour unions exist in Iceland, and furthermore having the resources and courage to contact them when problems arise.

Most of the women interviewed said there is considerable room for improvement where Icelandic classes are concerned. Apart from having to work full time, and possibly attend to families, while still trying to find time for these classes, there is the added difficulty that many of these women speak no English, either—more Icelandic teachers who speak the native languages of these women are needed.

Drífa Snædal, the former head of SGS, also added that teaching computer proficiency needs to be improved. This is especially the case for women who come from areas with little to no internet access. In a country as online as Iceland, a lack of computer proficiency can make it difficult to apply for jobs, housing, and to pay bills through online banking.

As has been the case for many years, many of these women are also having difficulty getting their educations from their home countries recognised in Iceland. Numerous immigrants who have university degrees, especially those from outside Europe, are often relegated to unskilled labour because their degrees are not taken seriously by potential employers.

Most marginalised of all are women from Syria, more often than not arriving in Iceland as refugees. While these women are supposed to receive help from government authorities in order to integrate, only a small proportion reported receiving any psychological aid. They also reported receiving mixed messages from these same authorities. For example, one of them said that while they were told that they would not have to work nor pay rent for their first year, they were shocked to be told upon arrival that they had three months to find work and start paying rent. Further, as many of these services are provided by municipal rather than national authorities, the level of service they receive can vary widely from town to town.

Overall, Syrian women in Iceland do not feel as though they are a part of Icelandic society, and that a year is not a long enough time to recover from coming from a brutal civil war into an entirely new country. Despite this, they expressed gratitude towards the Icelandic people and feel Iceland is a safe country. That said, there is still clearly room for improvement when it comes to helping them integrate.

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