Icelanders Demand Government Action Over Words Regarding Refugee Children - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Icelanders Demand Government Action Over Words Regarding Refugee Children

Published July 3, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photo by
Aliya Uteuova

The rhetoric from the party leading the government is strong, but many Icelanders believe Parliament can already take action to save refugee children from deportation to unsafe conditions.

As reported, there are currently two impending deportation cases in Iceland involving children as young as nine years old. In both cases, the families in question are set to be deported to Greece—where refugee conditions are already unfit for children. Furthermore, these deportations violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the revised Law on Foreigners.

Since news of this broke, the public discussion has heated up. While politicians for the Left-Greens, the party which leads Iceland’s government, have reiterated their commitment to protecting the rights of refugee children, other Icelanders have pointed out that they could stop these deportations today if they truly wanted to.

Kolbeinn Óttarsson Proppé, an MP for the Left-Greens, penned a lengthy column, published this morning on Vísir, called “Show refugees compassion”. In it, Kolbeinn argues that Iceland needs to make systemic changes in order to prevent these deportations, and proposes the formation of a special committee tasked with gauging how and whether the Law on Foreigners is followed.

“All it takes is for the Minister of Justice to decide to abide Iceland’s international obligations regarding refugees and children. [The Minister] could decide today to cease all child deportations to Italy and Greece, where conditions are unsuitable for children.”

For many Icelanders, however, this proposal falls flat, with many raising the point that the time for action has not only long since passed; these deportations could be ended today within the current legislative framework.

“No, Kolbeinn, it will not take radical actions or systemic changes to let children stay [in Iceland],” Pirate MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir writes on Facebook in direct response. “All it takes is for the Minister of Justice to decide to abide Iceland’s international obligations regarding refugees and children. [The Minister] could decide today to cease all child deportations to Italy and Greece, where conditions are unsuitable for children.”

The refugee rights group No More Deportations echoed similar sentiments, accusing the Left-Greens of standing silently by while these deportations continue, and Vísir has compiled quotes from numerous Icelandic public figures all pointing out the same thing: that the law does not need changing; it needs enforcing.

Other Icelanders have pointed out this tweet from Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is also the chair of the Left-Greens. In it, she retweets Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who praised Katrín for confirming “her country’s commitment to supporting humanitarian operations and resettling vulnerable refugees”. Katrín herself adds, “Refugee issues are a big challenge for the international community where everyone needs to work together.”

In the meantime, Icelanders are again circulating a petition calling upon Icelandic authorities to review these deportation cases, and a protest at Hallgrímskirkja is slated for 17:00 tomorrow.

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