Inclement weather and an outpouring of xenophobia, some of them from former Icelandic politicians, have led to the refugees dispersing their protest from Austurvöllur, the square in front of Parliament.
For nearly a week, the refugees sought to speak with any representative of the Icelandic government, which never materialised. Despite assembling peaceably in numbers no greater than a couple dozen at most, police deployed pepper spray and used a level of force usually reserved for crowds of thousands. The incident was captured on video, and showed the police initiating the conflict, in some cases spraying refugees as they were trying to retreat.
The incident sparked not only shock, but also xenophobia. Some news sources were forced to close the comments sections of any articles about the protest due to hateful comments, and some retired Icelandic politicians even joined in the xenophobia. Amongst them was former Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason who, writing on his blog, likened the refugees to the spread of infectious disease.
Fréttablaðið now reports that the refugees have left the area. Elínborg Harpa Önundardóttir, a member of the refugees rights group No Borders, told reporters that both the xenophobia and poor physical health, brought on by inclement weather, contributed to the decision. The hate, she says, was not limited to social media, either.
“There have been a lot of people with hatred for foreigners at Austurvöllur, especially yesterday,” she told reporters. “This isn’t just happening on social media. These are living people at Austurvöllur threatening us. Every day.”
Refugees in Iceland are housed in shelters that, in many ways, are actually worse than prisons. Their demands have been, and continue to be, an end to deportations; to have their cases reviewed; to have the right to work; to have access to health care; and the closing of the Ásbrú refugee shelter in Keflavík, which is considered a particularly isolating location.
To help the average person understand their lived experience, these refugees also helped complile a short video of what they are most afraid of, which you can also watch below:
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