Icelanders to Refugees: You're Welcome Here

A social media movement is pushing for officials in Reykjavík to do more to help displaced people find homes.

Syrian migrants travel along a road after crossing into Hungary on Aug. 29. (Photo: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Sep 2, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Millions of Syrians and other refugees fleeing conflict and poverty have been flooding into Europe for months, sparking a sometimes xenophobia-tinged public debate about how to cope with the desperate masses arriving on the continent.

Many countries have pushed back against the record-setting human tide: On the closed Macedonian border, police fired tear gas and stun grenades to stop refugees from entering earlier this month. The Hungarians have erected a border fence that the French detest, and in its capital, Budapest, trains booted passengers trying to reach northern Europe and left hundreds stranded on Tuesday. Bulgaria has spent millions to improve its refugee camp, but it only holds 6,000 people.

Yet, on the islands of Iceland, thousands of residents are saying they're willing to open their doors and are calling on their government to help them do that and more to welcome refugees. Iceland's officials have agreed to accept 50 refugees—yet posts to a Facebook page titled "Syria Is Calling" are calling for more, with messages of support like "I have an extra room in a spacious apartment which I am more than happy to share along with my time and overall support,” Iceland Review reports.

The Facebook page, which is cohosted by Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, a professor of design at Iceland Academy of the Arts who studied at the University of California, Berkeley, bears a warning against hate speech and also this note:

Refugees are human resources, experience and skills. Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker, and the television host. People who we'll never be able to say to: "Your life is worth less than mine."

In response to the page and growing public pressure, Iceland's prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, announced on Tuesday that he'll propose a special committee of ministers to figure out "how we can contribute as much as possible," the Review reported.

Around the world, the number of people displaced by war, conflict, and persecution has hit an all-time high, with nearly 60 million forcibly displaced by the end of 2014, according to the United Nations. One in every 122 humans on Earth "is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum," the U.N. adds, noting that conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia have had a major impact in the past five years.

The total population of Iceland is nearly 330,000.