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Ministry of Justice

Turning point in foreigners' affairs

In recent years, strong emphasis has been placed on reviewing and reforming procedures for immigrants' issues, with particular attention to the rapid rise in applications for international protection. The Ministry of the Interior has devoted considerable work to these reforms, which are based in large part on the experience, emphases, and methods used in Norway. The main aim of the reforms has been to implement ideas from the Minister, the Government, and Parliament concerning speedier case handling, as recent applications for asylum have often taken as much as two to three years to process.

Although considerable progress has been made in reducing processing time and improving procedure, the agreement with the Red Cross and the statutory amendments passed by Parliament at the end of the last legislative session ensure that real change is in sight. The objective is that, effective 25 August 2014, case handling for asylum applications will take no longer than 90 days on average.

According to Hanna Birna, the reforms have been in preparation for a long time, with the aim of ensuring that substantial improvements are made, and the designation of the Red Cross as the Ministry's principal collaborator is a sign of the careful thought given to this issue.

“The Red Cross' involvement with these projects is extremely significant, not only because of the knowledge and experience the organisation brings to the table, but also because of the values and professionalism that characterise its work. The new agreement is a major turning point in the handling of asylum-seekers' affairs, and it will enable us to provide applicants with better and more efficient services while ensuring improved utilisation of funds,” said Hanna Birna.

The Minister also mentioned the milestone achieved with the unanimous approval of extensive amendments to the Act on Foreigners at the spring legislative session. Although one of the main objectives was to expedite case handling, the amending bill of legislation also provided for the establishment of a separate, independent appeals committee whose role will be to review the decisions of the Directorate of Immigration, whereas the Ministry was previously responsible for such review. The committee will begin work at the beginning of next year, and preparation for its activities has already begun. Committee members will be appointed in the near future from among the most competent experts in the field.

Finally, it should be noted that, at the beginning of 2014, the Minister appointed a multipartisan Parliamentary committee chaired by MP Óttarr Proppé to assess whether a comprehensive review of legislation on foreigners is needed in Iceland and, if so, what it should entail. The committee's work is well underway, and a proposal for a comprehensive review of the Act on Foreigners is expected this winter.

Accompanying documents:

Agreement with the Icelandic Red Cross

The Ministry of the Interior and the Icelandic Red Cross have signed an agreement on the provision of assistance and services to individuals who have requested international protection in Iceland. The main purpose of the agreement is to ensure objective and impartial legal protection to all asylum-seekers, so that all applicants for asylum receive equal treatment and thorough, professional case handling. Among other provisions, the agreement stipulates that the Red Cross shall assess asylum-seekers' conditions on a regular basis, as well as providing visiting services and social assistance. The Red Cross will also provide international search services for asylum-seekers and refugees, with the aim of locating lost family members and reconnecting families that have been separated, when such is possible.

According to the agreement, the Red Cross will temporarily take on the role of protecting asylum-seekers' interests during the asylum application process. The Red Cross will advertise for employees who will dedicate themselves solely to these tasks. Successful applicants for the positions will have a candidate's degree or master's degree in law, plus expert knowledge of refugee affairs. The protection of asylum-seekers' interests will include providing information and guidance at the reception centre, participating in identifying particularly vulnerable asylum-seekers, and being present at interviews, among other tasks. The agreement has a term of 12 months and will be renewed for a two-year period if the arrangement proves successful.

Amendments to the Act on Foreigners

On 16 May 2014, Parliament passed a bill of legislation sponsored by the Minister of the Interior, entailing extensive amendments to the Act on Foreigners. One of the main objectives of the amendments was to shorten the time that asylum-seekers must wait for a decision on their cases here in Iceland. In accordance with this, the Ministry has been implementing new procedure for the treatment of asylum applications. The new procedure entails speedier case handling, more careful and thorough processing, and increased services for asylum-seekers and refugees in Iceland.

Appeals committee for foreigners' affairs

One of the aims of appointing an appeals committee is to respond to criticism of the current arrangement – i.e., that the Ministry of the Interior reviews the Directorate of Immigration's decisions – as the Ministry cannot be considered an objective and impartial body. This criticism has come both from within Iceland and from abroad. The Minister of the Interior agreed with this point when she presented the bill of legislation before Parliament, emphasising the importance of human rights organisation representation on the committee.

The Act stipulates as follows concerning the appointment of the committee:

  • The Minister shall appoint the appeals committee for foreigners' affairs for a term of five years.
  • The committee shall comprise three members and an equal number of alternates. The committee members shall be experts in the matters covered by the Act.
  • The chair of the committee shall have this job as his or her main occupation. The chair of the committee shall fulfil the eligibility requirements for service as a District Court Judge.

The other two committee members shall be appointed for a term of five years. One shall be appointed by the Icelandic Human Rights Centre and shall have expert knowledge of foreigners' affairs, particularly to include foreigners' residence in Iceland. The other shall be appointed by the University of Iceland Institute of Human Rights and shall have expert knowledge of foreigners' affairs, particularly to include refugee affairs and entitlement to international protection.

It is assumed that the committee will begin work at the beginning of next year. Preparation for its activities has already begun, and committee members will be appointed in the near future.

Case handling subjected to a maximum of 90 days

Considerable progress has been made in streamlining the handling of asylum cases. The above-mentioned agreement with the Red Cross will ensure further efficiency and overall improvements in asylum application processing. Because of the agreement, it is assumed that applications filed from 25 August 2014 onward will take no longer than an average of 90 days at each administrative level. Individual cases could take longer, however, due to extraordinary circumstances.

It is clear that many asylum-seekers have been forced to wait a long time for a resolution of their affairs, and consideration will be given to this in assessing their applications, as the responsibility lies with the authorities, particularly in cases involving children and other vulnerable applicants. Applicants' connection to Iceland and their individual circumstances are important in this context.

It is clear that many asylum-seekers have been forced to wait a long time for a resolution of their affairs, and consideration will be given to this in assessing their applications, as the responsibility lies with the authorities, particularly in cases involving children and other vulnerable applicants. Applicants' connection to Iceland and their individual circumstances are important in this context.

Comprehensive review of Act on Foreigners

At the beginning of the year, the Minister of the Interior appointed a Parliamentary committee to assess whether a comprehensive review of legislation on foreigners is needed in Iceland and, if so, what it should entail. The committee is chaired by Óttarr Proppé, MP from the Björt Framtíð party. The committee's work is well underway, and a proposal for a comprehensive review of the Act on Foreigners is expected this winter. Work on the bill of legislation will emphasise consultation with leading institutions and non-governmental organisations and with those who use the system, such as individuals who have been granted asylum or residence permits on humanitarian grounds.

 

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