Last Saturday the second biennial Reykjavík Multicultural Congress was held at Reykjavík City Theater (Borgarleikhús). It was positive to see so many people attend the conference, around 100 in total, demonstrating an interest in taking an active part in the community, despite the cold weather and Saturday morning start.
The meeting began with a panel discussion about life as an immigrant in Iceland. A number of foreigners spoke about how they had adapted to life here, learnt the language, and eventually made Iceland their home, while also highlighting issues which they felt needed to be addressed.
The aim of the conference was to gather information which can be used to improve services to immigrants in Iceland’s capital. A round-table discussion format was used and people were divided into groups according to language—Cebuano, English, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese.
Discussions focused on two subject areas: what kind of information immigrants need and how information is shared. As in the last conference in 2010, one of the key issues concerned immigrants’ access to activities and information, including on their rights and responsibilities.
A common complaint heard both at the conference and elsewhere is conflicting information provided by government institutions on matters concerning residence permits and citizenship.
It seems that too often people are told one thing by one institution or one staff member only to be told something else by the next person (for those interested, the Icelandic Nationality Act can be accessed in English here and other laws here).
For those looking for resources on life in Iceland, the websites of Reykjavík City Council, available in English and Polish, the Intercultural Center, the Multicultural and Information Center, W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland and island.is are a good start.
The Reykjavík Multicultural Council election was also held last week. The Council consists of seven members and seven alternates whose role it is to act as representatives of the immigrant community for a two-year period. A total of 17 candidates from diverse backgrounds ran for a seat on the council.
As minister Toshiki Toma wrote in an article in the Reykjavík Grapevine in June, it is important that the Council reflects the diversity—ethnically, culturally, mentally, religiously—of immigrants in Reykjavík.
It is perhaps a shame that only 17 candidates ran given that 14 get a seat or act as an alternate member. There are no doubt a variety of reasons for this including concerns about the time needed to commit to the position, as well as the call for applications needing to be advertised better.
But focusing on the positives, those elected to the Council do appear to reflect the diversity of Reykjavík’s immigrants with successful candidates from Columbia, Germany, Kenya, Poland, the Philippines, the U.S. and Vietnam securing a seat (click here to read more about the election results).
They will act as representatives for the immigrant community in Reykjavík and work towards improving services for foreigners in the capital region over the next two years.
Another issue which was highlighted during the conference was the absence of foreigners in the media and the overall coverage of immigrants by the Icelandic media. I won’t elaborate on that issue here, I’ve written about it in the past, including here and here.
But to those people who expressed an interest in writing opinion pieces for the Icelandic media, Iceland Review welcomes (voluntary) contributions (in English) to our Daily Life segment.
Zoë Robert – [email protected]