Bergsteinn Jónsson, executive director at UNICEF Iceland, stresses the importance of being well prepared as a nation once we receive refugees. He speaks extensively about the refugee problem in a Friday interview with Vísir.
“Personally, I think we can and should receive more than 50 refugees, but first, we must solve a few problems,” he states. He finds the recent wave of support from thousands of Icelanders, who have offered their assistance to refugees, moving and inspiring.
In his opinion, we must make up our minds what kinds of groups we want to welcome to our country, because preparations must be made accordingly. “Do we want to invite marginalized groups who will not be able to return to Syria for some reason? Do we want to invite those who stay here for a limited time and who are likelier to move back once the war is over? Our focus has been on single mothers, the ill, and the trans, gay and lesbian community. That is a great approach, but to those we must add extended families … so that those people can enjoy a better system of support.”
Bergsteinn says technical details must be given attention: “How many Arabic interpreters do we have? Do we have psychologists who speak Arabic? We will have to offer good psychological support. Do we have healthcare workers who speak Arabic and so on?”
He claims we have done a good job as a nation, so far, with refugees we have received. Reports from UNICEF indicate, he notes, that children whose parents are originally from another country are in a fairly good position.
He acknowledges that many Icelanders are struggling financially, but says we are nonetheless among the world’s 20 wealthiest nations. As a nation, we have signed international agreements vowing to do our best to take part in the collective responsibility of nations, he adds.
Bergsteinn emphasizes the importance of channeling the large wave of support for refugees. Authorities must work with municipalities and grassroots movements to enable people to help those in need.