A group of refugees who hoped to peacefully demonstrate in front of Parliament yesterday were attacked unprovoked by the police, video and witness accounts reveal. As can be seen, officers used pepper spray against protesters who were not resisting, some of whom were in fact attempting to leave the scene. Two arrests were made.
The protest in question comprised roughly two dozen peaceful protesters, many of them refugees, who sought to demonstrate in front of Parliament yesterday. Their demands include the right to work, health care, and to have their cases for asylum fully examined by authorities, amongst other things.
However, police soon arrived on the scene and sought to disperse the group. While met with no resistance, the police resorted to using force against the protesters, which included the use of pepper spray, sometimes against people attempting to leave the scene. A photographer also reported being punched in the chest by police. The response is highly unusual—police have not used force against even much larger demonstrations in front of Parliament in recent times, raising questions as to why this degree of force was deployed against this protest in particular, least of all when the demonstration was peaceful.
Two people were arrested in the incident, prompting the remaining protesters to go to the police station by Hlemmur and demand their release. They were released hours later.
Footage from the Parliamentary protest can be seen here, and embedded below:
A second, longer video shows more of the same (Article continues after video):
Sema Erla Serdar, a refugees rights activist who was present at the demonstration, says the protest was entirely peaceful until police arrived and began shoving demonstrators. “The police acted excessively against the protesters and resorted to violence for no good reason,” she said. “This must never happen. When we’re talking about a minority group, who have little to no voice in society, the rest of us need to stand up and help them stand guard by their rights and send a clear message that this kind of treatment will not be tolerated.”
This marks the fourth such protest by refugees in Iceland. Previous demonstrations had been held at the Directorate of Immigration and went without incident.
In response to yesterday’s use of force by police, a solidarity event has been scheduled in front of Parliament at 17:00 today. Organisers ask that attendees bring food, blankets and tents, as this is intended to be a long-term protest.
The actual demands of the refugee protesters are fairly simple. As the event details, their demands are the following:
1. No more deportations – deportations are torture.
2. Everybody should get substantial reviewing of their case. Dublin regulation is inhumane and highly flawed.
3. The right to work. We want to get the work permit along with temporary kennitala while we wait for the decision from immigration office. We want to work!
4. Equal access to healthcare. Everybody should get their medical needs met, be it physical or psychological. Currently immigration office in Iceland denies many refugees the right to a suitable healthcare.
5. Closing down of the isolated refugee camp in Ásbrú, Keflavík. It is psychologically devastating to be kept in isolation in Ásbrú. In less then one week two people in Ásbrú have tried to commit suicide.
Update: Ómar Sverrisson, the photographer who was reportedly punched by a police officer, has graciously sent the Grapevine some photos from the demonstration: