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Political tension over the refugee issue

26.05.2022 - 00:25
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Kristinn Þeyr Magnússon - RÚV
The issue of deporting refugees has sparked a debate in Icelandic society and media. Social advisors, the Red Cross, politicians, and a lawyer representing refugees have spoken on the subject. The matter was also raised in parliament and a cabinet meeting. Yesterday the RUV News raised the topic with a political scientist who said that a difference is crystallizing between ruling party politicians on the deportation issue now that the government no longer has to tend to the pandemic.

The Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson said in Kastljós yesterday that the government is unanimous on the imminent deportation of 300 refugees. Immediately afterwards, on the 10 p.m. television news, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, found the statement incorrect, as he had expressed serious doubts about the deportation of the refugees at a cabinet meeting yesterday morning. 

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said it was necessary to look more closely at the group members and pay special attention to children and those here for a long time. "At yesterday's cabinet meeting where this issue was discussed, we heard different points of view", the Prime Minister said. She added that the issue is unlikely to affect cooperation in the government and that the chairpersons of the political parties have not met on the subject so far, and there are no plans for them to do so.  

The biggest bone of contention in the government 

"This is probably the biggest disagreement that has occurred in this government," says Eiríkur Bergmann, professor of political science. "It is also happening directly after the dispute about the sale of Íslandsbanki. In today's politics, refugee and immigration issues are proving most damaging to governments and ministers." 

Eiríkur says that great emotions often accompany discussions on these issues. In this case, political differences between the three parties are crystallizing. They have not surfaced before, as the government has been preoccupied with pandemic issues for most of its term. 

"Of course there are differences between the politics of the left and the politics of the right. I think the COVID-19 pandemic made those differences blur. But maybe some sort of a conventional unity was created when the pandemic took precedence over all other issues. Now it is clear that the parties differ politically on many important matters." 

Conflicts behind the scenes 

Is this a high profile issue that could lead to the collapse of the government? "I don't think the current situation can destroy the government. On the other hand, it could lead to tension that will build up until the issue becomes unmanageable. It has already happened in other countries that ministers have had to resign because of refugee issues. Sometimes issues like this one can be detrimental to governments. 

Eiríkur points out some interesting twists in the events of the last few days: "Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson takes a decisive step forward, provoking his fellow ministers to react, thus revealing a fundamental difference of opinion within the government on a hugely important issue. Conflicts that have so far remained behind the scenes are revealed. That's when the Prime Minister steps in and tries to smooth things over," says Eiríkur, referring to the interview with Katrín Jakobsdóttir that was released this morning. "But it is clear from her statement that she knows there is a big difference of opinion. " 

The Minister of Justice, Jón Gunnarsson, wasn't interested in an interview on the matter. Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children's Affairs, said in an interview with the RUV that he commented on the deportation of refugees at yesterday's cabinet meeting. No other minister wanted to comment on the issue, and some replied that it was not their department and that it was best to approach the Minister of Justice.

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Margrét Adamsdóttir