I routinely brag about Iceland to my friends and family. I am immensely proud of the progress it has made in women’s rights, its representation in government and business and how it has decreased the pay gap between genders. I am doubly proud of the gay rights, the fact Iceland was not only the first to elect a female president but also the first to elect an openly gay head of state – and a lesbian at that. The low rate of incarceration, recidivism, lack of violence at the hands of police, low crime, functional education and healthcare are also things I celebrate and make me swell with pride thinking of my new home. With all that said I am utterly ashamed at how miserable Icelandic officials treat asylum seekers.
Iceland has a deplorable record in regard to asylum seekers, one of the lowest acceptance rates in the EU. It also has a very poor historical record, disallowing jewish asylum seekers in WWII as well as asking that black American soldiers not be stationed at Keflavik air base. One of recent examples is the case of Martin, a Nigerian gay man seeking asylum in Iceland.
In 2012 Martin was arrested upon arrival after procuring a false passport and detained while his application for asylum was being processed only to be rejected by the Directorate of Immigration in 2013. Now the Icelandic Ministry of the Interior has endorsed, for a second time, the decision of the Directorate to deny his request on the grounds of the Dublin II regulation, which holds only one member state responsible for an asylum application. That means Martin will be sent to Italy which he first escaped to and then most likely back to Nigeria.
Currently in Nigeria, being gay is punishable by fines, jail and even death by stoning and these punishments are actively enforced. It is no wonder that Martin fled Nigeria to look for a better life. Italy let him languish for 9 years in deplorable conditions. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a country such as Italy, lacking gay rights, denied his asylum status, and for that reason and others he ended up in Iceland.
All the rejected asylum seekers make me sad to hear about. But I cannot identify directly with a woman fleeing a rape riddled country or someone seeking to leave a war-torn country. However I can identify with a man fleeing a homophobic country and it makes me infinitely sad he is being denied the same opportunity I was granted.
You see, I was born to a religious family in Virginia, grew up in a homophobic area and was sent to private religious schools where all of my friends and classmates were religious. Hardly the situation in Nigeria but the lack of any gay or lesbian role models, the inability to talk about my sexuality as I was figuring it out and fear for my own safety if family or strangers discovered I was gay, lead me to experiment with unprotected sex with numerous partners, feel stressed, constantly frightened, guilty because I thought being gay was wrong and immensely lonely. I cannot imagine how much worse it must be for someone in a country with even worse rights for gay people.
I have no doubt that all legalities were followed in the case of Martin. But sending him out of Iceland will inevitably land him back in Nigeria where he faces a real threat to his life and definitely an ability to lead a normal life, full of friends and happiness. From a year now, Martin could be dead based on this sole decision.
I understand the concept of the Dublin II Regulation so that an individual cannot attempt refugee status in every EU country, costing countless Euro as well as time from every country. But in the case of Martin it seems merely a convenient excuse for Iceland to fall back on legalities and pretend that its hands are tied and it must send him back. In reality Iceland is allowed to let him stay (the regulation does not require deportation) but officials regularly take too long giving answers according to this same law, engage in illegal arrests of those with falsified passports and then use this internationally recognized illegal arrest record to deny asylum.
And why is Iceland a signatory of these international laws if not to help those most in need who flee persecution? Is it to only appear progressive while using the minutia of the law to deny as many as legally possible? Iceland and the companies within have no qualms about using inexpensive labor from abroad to manufacture clothes, design items or to import workers from other EU countries to construct infrastructure. But then when it comes to participating in the global effort to help refugees the Icelandic government turns a blind eye. It seems only money is allowed to cross international borders, not actual people.
Based on an open letter written by Ben Chompers to the Ministry of the interior.