“Sometimes the police has to do something that’s unpopular,” the man in the suit said. Then he waved his hand, two cops stepped behind the altar of the church and dragged out a sixteen-year old Iraqi boy. Another refugee was followed out by the man in the suit.
Iceland has a strict policy against refugees. If they come through Europe, chances are they’ll be deported. The trick is, there’s no other way in. Refugees get “processed” and then bounced back to whichever bit of Europe originally registered them. The men apprehended at church tonight are two Iraqis who had come via Norway. The authorities there, in their infinite and mysterious wisdom, consider parts of Iraq to be safe, meaning both of them face deportation in the fjord-ridden Kingdom. They came to Iceland in a last-ditch effort to get rescued from this blind blithering madness, but their applications were swept aside. Today, they were told, they’d be flown out.
In the night they sought sanctuary in Laugarneskirkja, a small church in Reykjavík. The church published a statement saying it would provide them shelter, but not resist if the police came. The decision would be left to the consciences of policemen. The cops didn’t hesitate. They arrived just before 5am, and after a bit of talk, some scuffles and shouting they left with the refugees fifteen minutes later, leaving people shocked and crying at the church’s entrance.
These events transpired only hours after the Icelandic national footabll team won its biggest victory ever. It remains to be seen whether the nationalism now burning the brains of people here will make them ignore these news in annoyed embarrassment, or if it will make them say loud and clear that this won’t do at all. The church might continue to offer sanctuary to refugees fleeing the Icelandic state. But it will take public pressure, and probably a harder line by the clergy, to make church sanctuary worth more than just the word.