Iceland to host New Year's Eve party for asylum seekers after fundraising campaign on social media

More than 40 people volunteer to help at celebration at Reykjavik city hall

Friday 30 December 2016 16:31
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A young Syrian boy holds a sign reading 'Thank you Iceland' at Keflavik airport in January 2016
A young Syrian boy holds a sign reading 'Thank you Iceland' at Keflavik airport in January 2016

A New Year’s Eve party is being held for refugees in Iceland after dozens of people volunteered to help on social media.

Members of the Akkeri (Anchor) charity said Reykjavik council has loaned space at its city hall on the shores of scenic Lake Tjornin for the event.

Thorunn Olafsdottir, the charity’s director, said many asylum seekers coming have been anxiously awaiting the results of their applications through the festive season.

"It's good for people to be able to have some fun and to become human again for a while,” she told the Morgunbladid newspaper.

"This is an experiment in showing people that they are worth something and that they are welcome in our community."

Ms Olafsdottir said many of an estimated 800 asylum seekers to have arrived in Iceland have been housed in isolated rural areas in the country’s harsh winter, living on a government stipend while being forbidden from working.

More than 40 people have already volunteered to help at the party, where coffee and cake will be served before an evening of music and entertainment.

Like a previous celebration organised by Akkeri near the Greek-Macedonian border to mark the Muslim festival of Eid this summer, the event has partly been funded by money raised on social media.

Right-wing politicians and nationalist groups including the “Soldiers of Odin” have opposed the arrival of refugees in Iceland, despite widespread public support in the country of under 350,000 citizens.

Thousands of families offered to house asylum seekers arriving at the height of the refugee crisis last year after an author sent an open later to Iceland’s welfare minister asking for residents to be allowed to legally help.

In June, a church congregation in Reykjavik attempted to prevent police arresting two asylum seekers due to be deported to Norway by surrounding them at an altar, but the men were dragged away.

Fresh controversy was generated about the conditions in state-run reception centres earlier this month when a refugee died after setting himself on fire in Víðines in protest.

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