Demonstrators Attempt Conversation With Justice Minister At Open House, Are Denied

Demonstrators Attempt Conversation With Justice Minister At Open House, Are Denied

Published June 1, 2021

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Mohammed Alsweirki

A small group of demonstrators, who peacefully attended an open house of Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, on the occasion of her running in the primaries for the Indepednence Party, were met with a decidedly cold reception and asked to leave before the police were called, Vísir reports. The demonstrators specifically wanted to ask the Minister about the recent evictions of refugees by the Directorate of Immigration.

As reported, 14 refugees, most of them from Palestine, are currently homeless, cut off from food stipends (asylum seekers are not legally permitted to work) and denied health care after they were evicted from refugee shelters for refusing to take a pre-deportation PCR screening. Their refusal to take the test was based entirely on not wanting to assist with their own deportations.

Absolutely had business there

Elín­borg Harpa Önundar­dóttir, an activist for refugee rights, gave her account of events last Saturday.

“We said that we felt that it was appropriate, yes, when there’s an open house that Áslaug Arna is holding for the primaries,” she said. “And I don’t doubt that the refugees who were there were people who bore the brunt of her decisions of everyone who was there. So if anyone had any business being there, it was them.”

When questions about the evictions were raised to the Minister, however, the background music being played at the event was raised in volume in the hopes of drowning out the questions. Elínborg emphasised that Áslaug was courteous during the exchange; that it was likely other guests who were uncomfortable.

The church criticises the state

The evictions have raised concerted criticism, amongst them from the Icelandic Red Cross, who have questioned their legality. Fréttablaðið reports that the East Reykjavík Diocese has also condemned not only the evictions but also the deportations to Greece.

“It is reprehensible that the Icelandic government uses its power to deliberately make people homeless in a society that wants to have Christian values and human rights as a guide,” a statement from them read in part. “Just as it is unacceptable to send people to the situation in Greece, which is in no way safe, as many international reports have borne witness.”

Deportations may be unlawful

As the Grapevine reported, the deportations to Greece may be unlawful, both by Icelandic law and international agreements that Iceland is a part of.

ÚTL responded to the prevalent public outcry to this situation by telling the press that their hands are tied; that the law actually prevents them from examining the asylum applications of anyone coming from a country where they were already granted international protection, barring special circumstances. This refers to Chapter 4 Article 36 of the Law on Foreigners, which concerns international protection.

However, there are exceptions. The second to last paragraph of this very same article also says: “If the application of [the first paragraph of Article 36] would lead to a violation of Article 42, e.g. due to circumstances in the country to which the applicant is to be sent, the application shall be considered.” Article 42 expressly states: “According to this Act, it is not permitted to send a foreigner or a stateless person to an area where he has reason to fear persecution … or due to circumstances similar to those in the refugee concept, are in imminent danger of dying or being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Conditions in Greece, for asylum seekers and refugees alike, are well-documented. For one example of many, a report from November 2020, ‘Report on the Living Conditions of Beneficiaries of International Protection in Greece’, paints a damning picture of conditions in that country, stating in part: “A number of international and national courts have already held that the living conditions of asylum-seekers and recognised refugees alike in Greece are so dire that they are capable of amounting to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’ under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, or Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and therefore prevent the return of persons to the country in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement.”

Authorities “do not care about the lives of the refugees”

For his part, Mohammed Alsweirki, one of the refugees who attended last Saturday’s demonstration, reported an event well-attended, and criticsed Icelandic authorities for their practices.

“It was a wonderful protest with a large number of people supporting the refugees here,” he told us. “We talked about the immigration refusal of the applications for refugees coming from Greece. This protest was to support the Palestinian refugees here and to prevent their deportation to Greece. Also, the Icelandic government recently expelled more than 14 asylum seekers to the street and stopped all aid to them, and they are now without shelter, or any food or health aid. It is because of their refusal to return to Greece. Knowing that many international organizations, the World Health Organization, Human Rights and the International Red Cross have reported a lot of the difficulty of life in Greece and the status of refugees there, and their exposure to beatings, torture and violence, and the denial of housing, work, and other services, in addition to the racism that refugees face in Greece. But the Icelandic government and the Icelandic Immigration Service do not care about the lives of the refugees here and want to force them back to the streets in Greece.”

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