We were approached here at W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland about legal proceedings in the care of a District Court Attorney. The topic being the human rights of female applicants for international protection. The attorney was given consent to discuss certain issues of her clients’ cases with the organization. After reviewing the information provided, we believe it necessary to send a public statement to the Icelandic government in order to remind it to respect its international obligations towards applicants for international protection, especially women who are in a particularly vulnerable position, such as the clients in question.
Having studied the information provided to us about the attorney’s clients, it is our view that their human rights are being violated and that various factors related to their background and litigation need to be taken into account. It is our opinion that all women who apply for international protection in Iceland should experience the same human rights as all other women in this country. Our view is that the women in question are in a position where their human rights have been repeatedly violated throughout the process of seeking asylum. Iceland is in a unique position to provide them with the protection they need in order to live with dignity and develop full lives. We believe that the women in question are all in a particularly vulnerable position, both due to the situation in Greece and due to the fact that their background contains tragedies that we know women in Iceland would receive support, counseling, and treatment for.
In these cases, all women are internationally protected in Greece. Here we would like to quote a report from Human Rights Watch where you can read about the situation and the inappropriate conditions in which refugees are living with, in Greece. We would also like to draw attention to a report from Refugees International from 2020 which deals specifically with the situation in Greece among women and unaccompanied minors. The following recommendations can be found in the report:
• To the Greek authorities: “Ensure the presence of law enforcement officers in asylum seekers’ residences and receive training in how to deal with gender-based violence (GBV), protection against sexual abuse and abuse (PSEA) and the fundamental rights of refugees.”
• To European countries: “Develop more legal avenues, such as humanitarian visas, for asylum seekers to enter Europe.”
• To the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs: “Collaborate with government authorities to hold regular, well-publicized information sessions to educate asylum seekers about their rights, providing examples of gender-based violence, and clearly explaining how they can report incidents of violence, abuse, and exploitation. Conduct regular mapping of NGOs and services available. and Provide SGBV survivors with comprehensive case management until the government has the capacity to do so, including timely access to safe accommodation, medical care, psychosocial support, and legal aid”.
Read the report in its entirety here. https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/2/21/seeking-asylum-greece-women-unaccompanied-children-struggle-survive
Conditions in Greece are deteriorating and it is our opinion that it is not humane to send these women back to Greece. It is our understanding that people granted protection in Greece are deprived of immediate access to basic medical care, support, and housing. Then they do not get the necessary identification and tax numbers to be able to improve their situations, e.g. to rent an apartment, earn an income by finding a job, open a bank account or see a doctor to name a few things. All services in that country are tied to these identification and tax numbers. In addition, women describe situations in which they have experienced both prejudice and violence.
A definition of a particularly vulnerable situation can be found on the Directorate of Immigration’s website:
“For special reasons, e.g. referring to the fact that individuals may be in a vulnerable position, e.g. due to health, or having difficulty drawing in the recipient country due to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, race or gender … “
Furthermore, the organization would like to draw attention to the definitions found on the website of the Directorate of Immigration regarding “Who is entitled to international protection? In addition, an applicant for international protection who is not considered a refugee or a stateless person may be granted a residence permit on humanitarian grounds if there are compelling reasons for doing so, such as a serious illness or difficult situation in the home country.”
In the Act on Foreigners 2016 no. 80 June 16, the following definition can be found:
Article 25 Analysis of the special needs and status of applicants for international protection.
“An applicant for international protection shall undergo a medical examination as soon as possible from the time the application is submitted. When processing an application for international protection, the Directorate of Immigration shall ensure, as soon as possible, that, with the assistance of appropriate experts, an individual analysis is made of whether the applicant is considered to be in a particularly vulnerable position, cf. 6. tölul. Article 3 If the applicant is considered to be in such a situation, it must be assessed whether he or she therefore has any special needs that need to be taken into account in the handling of the case, e.g. need for specific health services. Such an assessment shall not be limited to the time applied for and shall not limit an individual’s right to special assistance, even if the special needs arising from his or her vulnerable situation appear later than at the time of application. “
„6. Persons in a particularly vulnerable position: Persons who, due to certain personal characteristics or circumstances, have special needs that need to be taken into account in the handling of a case or are unable or fully or in no way exercise the right or fulfill obligations provided for in this Act without assistance or special consideration, e.g. unaccompanied children, disabled people, people with mental disorders or disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, single parents with young children, victims of human trafficking, seriously ill persons and persons who have been subjected to torture, genital mutilation, rape or other serious mental, physical or sexual violence. “
According to the information we have about the women in question, they are in a particularly vulnerable position, as they have all been abused and traumatized, mentally and physically abused as well as genital mutilation and sexual violence. They suffer from very serious mental illnesses due to traumas related to violence and prejudice that they have had to endure.
The Icelandic government has concluded that the particularly vulnerable situation of these women does not affect their decision to deport them to Greece. W.O.M.E.N in Iceland does not consider such an interpretation of the law to be in accordance with Icelandic law and international obligations, incl. The Istanbul Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
In light of all issues addressed above, W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland would like to remind the Icelandic government of its humanitarian obligations towards women in especially vulnerable positions and, as the case may be, encourage the Immigration Appeals Board to consider the uptake for reopening their application for protected status and refuge in Iceland.