Justice Minister: "Wont' Change Regulations To Save Family"—But Doesn't Need To, Either

Justice Minister: “Wont’ Change Regulations To Save Family”—But Doesn’t Need To, Either

Published September 11, 2020

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Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says she will not change regulations on foreigners to prevent the deportation of a family of six, including four young children, who have lived in Iceland for over two years. However, the Minister is not obliged to change any regulations in order to grant this family asylum—the Minister need only follow the international agreements that Iceland has agreed to follow.

As reported, the Kehdr family came to Iceland from Egypt in early August 2018, and immediately applied for asylum. They were forced to leave their home country as the father of the family, Ibrahim Kehdr, was being persecuted in Egypt due to his political activities; namely, for supporting former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. In July 2019, the Directorate of Immigration denied their application, and so the family filed an appeal with the Immigration Appeals Board. The Appeals Board came to the conclusion to agree with the Directorate’s decision in November of the same year. This would put them just a couple weeks shy of being granted asylum in accordance with the 16-month regulation—a regulation which grants asylum to anyone whose case has lingered within the system for 16 months or longer.

However, the announcement of the date of their deportation, September 16th, only arrived late last week, by which time the family has been in Iceland for over two years. A petition to grant the family asylum is now underway, with over 8,000 signatures at the time of this writing.

Iceland has encoded in its laws the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Refugee Convention, all of which, directly or indirectly, already prohibit deportations of this nature.

In a conversation with RÚV, the Minister chose fairly sharp language in referring to the case, saying, “We are not going to change any regulations to rescue a family who have gone to the media.”

Despite the Minister’s stance, she does not actually need to change any regulations to grant this family asylum. On the contrary, at least three international agreements that Iceland has agreed to follow, and has codified into its own laws, forbid deportations of this nature.

Iceland changed its Law on Foreigners in 2017 to provide special protections to child refugees. Iceland has encoded in its laws the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Refugee Convention, all of which, directly or indirectly, already prohibit deportations of this nature.

For example, Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The children in this case are aged two, five, nine and 12. They are all in playschool and primary school, and the three eldest children speak Icelandic. They have established social roots in this country and, as even the Directorate of Immigration believed the father’s accounts of political persecution in Egypt—including a knife attack and an attempted kidnapping—sending the children back to Egypt would arguably put them in considerable danger.

“We completely disagree [with the Directorate’s decision],” lawyer for the family Magnús Davíð Norðdahl told Vísir. “[The parents] are terrified of being sent back to Egypt, and that they will be arrested. They won’t be able to care for their children while they’re in prison. … This decision is, to my mind, illegal, ethically wrong and inhumane. It is my opinion that this is simply systemic violence against the family, and it is shameful.”

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