Asylum Seeker Bill Withdrawn (Again), No Mass Deportations Yet, Refugee Work Permit Bill Fails To Pass

Asylum Seeker Bill Withdrawn (Again), No Mass Deportations Yet, Refugee Work Permit Bill Fails To Pass

Published June 22, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Silje Bergum Kinsten/

Legislation and other government action regarding asylum seekers and refugees has, in recent days, been significant because of what has not happened.

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First off, the long-contentious bill on asylum seekers, widely criticised by numerous human rights organisations as contradicting international law and the Icelandic constitution, has been withdrawn by Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson. This was, in fact, the fourth time the Independence Party–which has long controlled the Ministry of Justice–has attempted to pass these sweeping restrictions of the rights of those seeking international protection in Iceland. While Jón has said he will submit the bill again in the autumn, there is no indication that its chances will fare any better then.

No mass deportations?

Speaking of the rights of those seeking international protection, a plan to deport nearly 200 people from Iceland–a great many of them to Greece, where numerous international bodies have said even those granted “protection” live in deplorable conditions–has not as yet come to pass. Speaking to Vísir, National Police communications director Gunnar Hörður Garðarsson said that no one has been deported since the decision to deport people again, following a brief respite during the early pandemic, was renewed. He did say though that six people had “willingly” elected to leave Iceland rather than be deported in police custody.

Work permits

Even those granted international protection on humanitarian grounds in Iceland do not necessarily have it easy. A recent bill which would have, if passed, granted these refugees a work permit simultaneously with their receiving international protection on humanitarian grounds failed to pass in Parliament, Vísir reports–most likely because it came from the opposition, although the official reason is that the bill, which was submitted as an addition to the Minister of Social Affairs’ bill on working rights, has not gone through three rounds of parliamentary discussion.

Pirate Party MP Arndís Anna K. Gunnarsdóttir pointed out the vicious circle that those granted international protection often find themselves in, saying, “There’s a bit of a catch-22 for this group. No one wants to hire someone without a work permit, and it is difficult to get a work permit without a job.” Which is true: a residence permit on humanitarian grounds is a yearly permit that needs to be renewed, and does not come with a work permit.

Interestingly, the proposal to grant a work permit alongside international protection on humanitarian grounds was in the aforementioned Ministry of Justice bill, which Arndís characterised as “a sugar pill, because this article is in [the Justice Minister’s bill] to help swallow this disgusting stuff in the bill.”

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