The Supreme Court of Iceland has rescinded the 30-day prison sentence handed down by the Reykjanes District Court to a Syrian refugee found guilty of traveling under a false passport.
The man was sentenced to 30 days’ jail time this spring and to date has served 15 days of his sentence. The Supreme Court cancelled the rest of the sentence on the grounds that the man’s life was in danger in Syria.
In addition to the prison sentence, the man had also been ordered to pay all legal costs, whereas the Supreme Court has now canceled both parts of the man’s punishment; saying that it was not in doubt that the man’s life and freedom would have been threatened in Syria. The ruling does not clear the man of the charges, but says that it would not be appropriate to punish him further under the circumstances.
The man was arrested at Keflavík International Airport on April 19 after he presented an Albanian passport with another man’s name on it for inspection. It was later discovered that the passport was partly forged. Under questioning, the man stated that he was a refugee and intended to give himself up to police upon entry to the country.
The man’s sister lives in Iceland, having arrived several years ago with a group of Syrian refugees.
At his initial District Court trial, the man admitted all charges, but said he traveled on the false passport only so he could claim asylum upon arrival; insisting he had no intention of living as an illegal, only wanting to reach Iceland in the first place.
Away from the courtroom, the man has been granted asylum and a four-year residency permit.
Páll Winkel, prisons chief, told RÚV he thinks it is pointless sentencing asylum seekers to prison for traveling under false passports. Up to 50 people are serving sentences for that crime every year, while the prison service has a waiting list of over 400 convicted people waiting to serve their sentences for other crimes.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has criticized the practice, and the Red Cross has called on the government to step in and stop refugees being imprisoned for forged passports.
Under the new Bill on Foreigners, currently awaiting approval by Alþingi, cases where applicants for international protection can be punished for traveling under false passports will be severely restricted in the future, if the bill passes unchanged.