Asylum seekers illegally imprisoned in Iceland

Iceland is commonly known to be one of the leading states in respect to human rights. However, an Icelandic tradition has been created for municipal courts to sentence asylum seekers that enter the country with fake documents or a forged passport to jail. Usually, the asylum seekers must serve 2-4 weeks in high security prison and are obliged to bear all the legal costs themselves. Despite the fact that all of the country’s prisons are full and hundreds of convicted criminals currently wait to be able to serve their sentence, asylum seekers that enter the country with illegal documents are prioritized and immediately sent to prisons. Sentenced asylum seekers are often unaware of where they are and in what circumstances, and even experience racist violent acts on the behalf of their inmates.

The 1951 UN Convention, which Iceland ratified in 1959 states in Article 31 that asylum seekers and refugees should not be punished for illegally enter a country should not be punished.

Article 31
Refugees unlawfully in the country of refugee
1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their
illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.

When authorities have been asked to justify the procedure, they defend it by stating that asylum seekers “freedom of movement must be restricted by some means, while their cases are being investigated” or to “reduce the likelihood of criminal acts”.

– Àsa