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Minister Says Iceland Can Accept Many More Refugees

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Minister Says Iceland Can Accept Many More Refugees

Eygló Harðardóttir

Minister for Social Affairs Eygló Harðardóttir. Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

Eygló Harðardóttir, minister for social affairs, says “we are one of the richest nations in the world and we can accept many more [refugees] than we have been accepting in the past.”

When interviewed on Stöð 2 yesterday, she was unwilling to name any numbers, but said that in response to the wave of support for refugees, by which she said she was deeply moved, the minimum number of 50 individuals will be increased. She applauded the offer of the municipality of Akureyri, North Iceland, to do its part in resettling refugees. She said there were plans underway to contact municipalities all over the country to evaluate how many refugees they would be willing to accept.

While thousands of Icelanders have shown their support for refugees by signing on to a Facebook event dubbed Kæra [Dear] Eygló Harðar, others have voiced concern about the cost of accepting refugees in large numbers. In the interview on Stöð 2, Eygló responded to concerns that accepting refugees would reduce public service in the country. (Lately, the public discussion in Iceland has focused on the poor financial condition of senior citizens and the disabled—groups who have a hard time making ends meet.) On the contrary, she said that people who have come here as refugees in the past have contributed well to society by paying their taxes, and that future refugees would no doubt strengthen Icelandic society. When asked whether she had the support of her party in this matter, she said she had the support not only of her party, but also that of parliament.

This morning, the Icelandic government announced that a committee of five ministers would be established to discuss issues regarding refugees and immigrants, according to RÚV.

Recently, a Facebook page was specifically created to ask authorities to accept not 50, but 5,000 refugees. Some politicians sound concerned regarding the number of refugees we might accept.

Vilhjálmur Bjarnason, member of parliament for the Independence Party, estimates that each refugee accepted will cost society between ISK 15 and 20 million (USD 116-155,000, EUR 103-138,000). “Accepting 5,000 refugees would cost us ISK 1 billion [USD 7.7 million, EUR 6.9 million],” he said when interviewed by Saga Radio yesterday. The interviewer pointed out the cost would be the same as that of constructing a new national hospital, an issue which has been in discussion for years.

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