Icelanders Open Arms to Syrian Refugees, If Only Their Government Will Allow It


Over the weekend, Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir published an open letter on Facebook appealing to Iceland’s welfare minister, Eygló Harðardóttir, to accommodate more Syrian refugees than the country’s cap of 50. Her original letter reads:

I hereby request a residence and work permit, along with an identification number and basic human rights, for five Syrians. I know a man who can accommodate them and give them food, but I’ll pay for their flight tickets and present them to the country and its people. I read in the news that Icelanders can accept 50 Syrians, but this would make them 55. Best regards, Bryndís.

Now, more than 14,000 people have joined the group, many of whom are Icelanders willing to house refugees or help out in some way. “The idea is to show the government that there exists a will to receive even more refugees from Syria than the 50 that have already been discussed,” Bryndís wrote. “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band.”

Iceland, population 330,000, took in 1,117 immigrants in 2014. According to the Telegraph (whose headline is misleading: not everyone in the group is from Iceland, nor are they all offering up homes) one single mom wrote: “We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson responded to the Facebook outpouring in the Iceland Review Online, announcing an “establishment of a special committee of ministers to discuss the problem and evaluate how Icelanders can respond” and telling the publication: “It has been our goal in international politics to be of help in as many areas as possible and this is one of the areas where the need is most right now.”

According to UN figures, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war began, with another 7.6 million displaced inside Syria. “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. The EU recently called emergency talks to discuss the wildly escalating migrant crisis, which has reached “unprecedented proportions.”

More than 300,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East have entered Europe since January—already more than in the entirety of 2014—and over 2,500 have died trying. Although Angela Merkel recently loosened Germany’s asylum rules (the country expects to take in 800,000 this year), the UK has continually resisted taking in significant numbers of refugees, causing some strain between the two governments.

But Iceland’s citizens aren’t alone in wanting to pitch in—for example, Berlin-based group Refugees Welcome, described as the “Airbnb for refugees,” has been inundated with offers of support, and similar projects are beginning to crop up around Europe. David Cameron might continue to shit the bed on this one, but that doesn’t mean that regular people around the world can’t act on their own.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Associated Press.

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