More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees

More than 11,000 Icelandic families have welcomed Syrian refugees to their homes in a bid to increase the government’s cap of just 50 asylum seekers a year.

They responded to a call by author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir, who set up a Facebook group with an open letter to the country’s welfare minister, Eygló Harðardóttir, asking her to allow people to help.

Ms Bjorgvinsdottir said she knew someone who could house five Syrians fleeing the country’s brutal civil war, requesting work permits, residents papers and “basic human rights” in exchange for paying for their flight and helping them integrate into national society.

In the letter, she said she started the group to show the level of public support for welcoming more refugees, who Ms Bjorgvinsdottir called “human resources” with experience and skills that could help all Icelanders.

“They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host,” she wrote.

“People of whom we’ll never be able to say in the future: ‘Your life is worth less than my life.’”

Referring to the thousands of migrants who have drowned in desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean, Ms Bjorgvinsdottir urged Iceland to “open the gates”.

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More than 11,000 people have so far joined the group, writing their own proposals in thousands of comments below.

“I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son…we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs,” wrote Hekla Stefansdottir, according to a translation by AFP.

As the outpouring of support continues, the Prime Minister has announced the formation of a committee dedicated to re-assessing the number of asylum seekers Iceland will accept.

The Reykjavik Grapevine reported that in a radio interview on Monday, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson that Iceland must take part in efforts to welcome the influx of migrants reaching Europe, which he called “one of the greatest challenges of modern times”.

Meanwhile, the welfare minister, Ms Harðardóttir, told national broadcaster RUV that authorities were reading the Facebook offers and would consider increasing the number of refugees accepted under a quota.

Iceland, which has a population of little over 330,000, welcomed 1,117 immigrants in 2014, according to government figures.

Germany is currently leading Europe for taking in asylum seekers, receiving more than  73,000 first-time asylum claims in the first three months of this year alone, compared to 7,300 in the UK.

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