State Attorney In Child Deportation Case Criticised For Xenophobic Testimony - The Reykjavik Grapevine

State Attorney In Child Deportation Case Criticised For Xenophobic Testimony

Published January 31, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

A person present for the initial trial involving the possible deportation of a child was reportedly shocked to listen to the arguments from the State Attorney, María Thejll, saying facts were not presented so much as “a lot of gut feelings”. The National Registry, while stating it had no representatives present at the trial, emphasises that their decisions are not based on nationality.

The case is one that sparked considerable public criticism of the Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL). It begins with Nazife and Erion, an Albanian couple who first came to Iceland seeking asylum in 2015. At that time, they received work permits and were employed by a hotel in Reykjavík until they were deported. They returned shortly thereafter and applied for a residence permit, and had to furthermore pay 700,000 ISK to the state—the amount they were charged by the government for their own deportation.

The Directorate of Immigration (ÚTL) contends that because the child was registered in the National Registry in a different manner than other children, they are exempt from both of these laws. The parents and their lawyer strongly disagree, and decided to take the matter to court.

One of the people who witnessed this hearing, Morgane Priet-Mahéo, wrote an open letter to Margrét Hauksdóttir, the director of the Registry, about what she witnessed.

“What I thought would be a court case trying to clarify and debate on the law on residence and the law of children turned into xenophobic preach[ing] on the side of defense,” Morgane writes in part. “Stating in summary that laws could not be interpreted in a way that would protect foreign (and even more illegal!!) children from deportation, otherwise all the foreigners would come to Iceland illegally and make children in order to obtain residency.”

“Being an Icelandic citizen of French origin, I was stunned to hear the speculations on the intent of laws and an interpretation based solely on a xenophobic fantasy that resembled very much the fantasy of Marine Le Pen, a far-right anti-immigrant French politician.”

While the State submitted no actual evidence to support this claim, it is reminiscent of the “anchor baby” argument employed primarily by Americans who are against immigration.

It bears mentioning that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges countries to put the best interests of a child ahead of all else, and Article 102 of Iceland’s own Law on Foreigners, forbids deporting a foreigner who was born in Iceland and had continuous residence here.

Despite this, the State reportedly argued that “the law on foreigner[s] is the law that precedes all the laws when dealing with foreign individual[s], including children, and the children’s law was intended for Icelandic citizens,” which is in fact incorrect. As a report from UNICEF in Iceland points out, laws protecting children in Iceland make no distinction based on nationality.

“Being an Icelandic citizen of French origin, I was stunned to hear the speculations on the intent of laws and an interpretation based solely on a xenophobic fantasy that resembled very much the fantasy of Marine Le Pen, a far-right anti-immigrant French politician,” Morgane says. “As a citizen I am in shocked to be represented by these declarations, as a French citizen immigrated to Iceland to participate and contribute to the society I felt directly under accusation. … I am offended to hear from a state attorney, 30 years after the writing of the UN convention on the rights of the child that there could be a split between the children in Iceland, with citizen children being protecting by the law on children, and foreign children being first of all foreigners and being the luggage of their parents.”

Morgane received a response to her open letter this afternoon, which she shared with Grapevine.

Inga Helga Sveinsdóttir, the legal advisor for The Department of Administration, said that no representative for the National Registry was present at the hearing, and as such they cannot respond to the words of a state attorney. However, Inga emphasised that “the National Registry always has the rights of an individual in mind”, and that their services apply to “individuals from wherever in the world they may hail, regardless of nationality”. She also stated: “It is unfortunate if the testimony presented any kind of xenophobia, as the decision-making process of the National Registry is not based on such ideas.”

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