From Iceland — Seeking Asylum In Iceland In The Time Of COVID-19

Seeking Asylum In Iceland In The Time Of COVID-19

Published June 18, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Three asylum seekers entered the Iceland on Tuesday and were placed in quarantine at Rauðarárstígur, Visir reports. There are currently 17 individuals staying at the government’s quarantine facility, not all of whom are asylum seekers.

The immigration authorities have instated a new asylum seekers policy during the coronavirus pandemic. Asylum seekers will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival, stay in a government quarantine facility for 5-7 days, and then be tested again. If they test negative on both occasions, they will be moved to the Immigration Office’s residences.

These strict procedures aim to safeguard vulnerable residents at the government’s larger immigration housing facility, several of whom have underlying health conditions according to chief of police, Víðir Reynisson.

Just nine asylum seekers applied for protection in April and May this year. Only two of the applicants had not previously applied, been born in Iceland or held a residence permit in the country. Due to restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has temporarily halted deportations for unsuccessful candidates. But with the cautious return to freedom of movement within the EU, it’s likely that deportations will soon resume.

Possible legal changes

The latest in a long list of parliamentary disputes over changes to legislation regarding asylum seekers is currently simmering in the Alþingi.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, resubmitted a proposal to change asylum legislation in mid-May. The bill has been the subject of criticism from opposition parties and notably the Red Cross.

Áslaug Arna claims the new legislation will shorten wait times for applicants, but critics warn that instead it will hamper the Immigration Appeals Board’s ability to carry out crucial case-by-case evaluations.

The change poses particular problems for those with special conditions that may affect their asylum applications, such as unaccompanied children and those with a long-term illness or mental health condition, according to Guðríður Lára Þrastardóttir, a lawyer at the Red Cross in a RÚV interview.

Without case-by-case evaluations, experts warn vulnerable individuals may be wrongly denied protection in Iceland. Under the Dublin Regulation Unsuccessful asylum applicants are frequently deported from Iceland back to countries like Hungary or Greece where they have already been granted protection. Living conditions for refugees in these countries have been declared inadequate by the European Council and much concern has been expressed about camps’ preparation for coronavirus outbreaks.

It seems unlikely that it will be passed without further alterations. Members of the Pirate Party have expressed concerns about the bill and the Left-Green Party has stated that it will not support the bill without changes to allow case-by-case decisions for children.

The treatment of asylum seekers is a controversial topic in Iceland, there has been public outcry about several deportation decisions in recent years. Read more of our reporting on the matter here.

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