From Iceland — Disappointment, Unanswered Questions Follow Gov't Afghan Refugee Announcement

Disappointment, Unanswered Questions Follow Gov’t Afghan Refugee Announcement

Published August 25, 2021

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, over a week after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the Icelandic government announced that the country would be accepting up to 120 Afghan refugees. The plan of action is complicated, and has left many Afghans in Iceland disappointed. At the same time, there are still a few unanswered questions regarding the plan.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told reporters yesterday that the government would prioritise those Afghans who worked with or for NATO; those who attended UN University in Iceland, along with their spouses and children; and that Afghans applying for family reunification—which would bring only their closest relations to the country—would have their applications prioritised and expedited.

Who counts as family

Navid Nouri, an Afghan-Icelander with family still in Afghanistan, expressed disappointment with this plan to Vísir. Part of this stems from which relatives qualify for family reunification according to Iceland’s own regulations: spouses, children under the age of 18, parents aged 67 or older, and the parents of children who are 18 or younger.

“If you have a brother or sister who is older than 18, is that person in other words old enough to die?,” Navid asked. “What is that supposed to mean?” He also pointed out that the government made no mention of prioritising especially vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, such as women and minorities.

Not a lot of time

Stefán Vagn Stefánsson, the chair of the refugee committee, told Kastljós last night that there is not a long window of time to get this underway.

He pointed out that the Taliban wants all foreign forces out of Afghanistan by August 31st. They have tightened their grip on Kabul and are actively trying to prevent people from leaving.

Stefán added that the actions announced today were only the first; more operations will follow. “This will not be done tomorrow, next week or next year,” he said. “This will be ongoing for years to come.”

Unanswered questions

There are also a number of unanswered questions regarding this operation. First amongst these is how the Icelandic government will contact qualifying refugees in Afghanistan. There is also the question of how the government will bring these people into the country and secure housing for them.

“We have experience with accepting refugees and have worked with companies that have government service centres and work with countries assisting refugee families with moving to the country,” Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason told RÚV. “There are no such companies in Kabul today. There is no air transport with the country today so we need to do everything in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and other foreign ministries and military forces of other countries.”

There is also the fact that Iceland had intended to take 85 so-called “quota refugees” last year and 100 this year. None have been brought in so far, and Ásmundur says that this was due to the pandemic. It is unclear when or whether this quota will be added to the number of refugees from Afghanistan which Iceland intends to welcome.

All this being the case, the days, weeks, and possibly months to come will materially determine how well Iceland’s plan to accept refugees from Afghanistan will go.

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