From Iceland — Controversial Bill On Asylum Seekers Hits Parliamentary Floor

Controversial Bill On Asylum Seekers Hits Parliamentary Floor

Published May 17, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has submitted a bill to Parliament that would make significant changes to the law regarding those seeking international protection in Iceland. This is the fourth attempt being made to pass this bill, which has received considerable pushback from numerous organisations as likely violating Icelandic and international law regarding human rights.

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As reported, the bill in question aims to expand police powers, evoke compulsory medical procedures, and give veto rights to the chair and vice chair of the Immigration Appeals Board, amongst other stipulations.

Article 19, which would give immigration authorities the power to order an applicant to submit to a series of physical examinations, including urine and blood samples and “other biological samples”, has been strongly objected to by the Icelandic Medical Association, with Steinunn Þórðardóttir, the director of LIS, telling reporters that such compulsory medical procedures, as well as having to then hand over confidential medical information, “utterly contradicts medical ethics. If this becomes law, we’ll be placed in the position of having to choose between obeying Icelandic law or following internationally recognised medical ethics.”

Furthermore, attorney Claudia Ashanie Wilson with Claudia & Partners Legal Services told the Grapevine that many of the provisions included in this bill are designed to further restrict the rights of those applying for asylum, singling out particular nationalities.

“Immigration authorities have a duty to not send someone to a country where their life, security and liberty would be in danger,” she said in part. “You cannot make that assessment unless you examine the case on its merits. Classifying applications that have been withdrawn and resubmitted as a ‘repeat application’ creates a situation that could violate the principle of non-refoulement; that is, that you cannot send someone to a country where they face imminent danger. This is one of the fundamental principles of refugee law, and it’s something I fear the Icelandic government is ignoring with this bill.”

In addition, objections to this bill, in whole or in part, have been issued by Amnesty International, the Icelandic Red Cross, UN Women in Iceland, and the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, amongst others.

The bill was formally submitted by the Minister of Justice yesterday evening, and from there followed a lengthy debate, with objections raised by Social Democrat MPs Helga Vala Helgadóttir and Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson, as well as Pirate Party MPs Andrés Ingi Jónsson and Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir as discussion wore on.

The matter did not conclude until well past midnight, and this bill has been submitted to the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee for further review.

The future of the bill is uncertain. As mentioned, this is the fourth attempt being made at passage, and it still needs to be processed by committee and further discussion before a final vote can be made, and even so, the parliamentary season is due to draw to a close next month.

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