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Being a Refugee in Iceland

Being a Refugee in Iceland

Iceland is the most progressive country in the world when it comes to equal rights between the sexes. We take great pride in this title and in ensuring excellent living conditions for “all,” often forgetting that these outstanding rights are only applicable if you are a white Icelandic, or Nordic. If your skin is too dark or your accent too thick, you do not qualify for these privileges. While Nordic countries pride themselves on their progressiveness and harmonious interactions with one another, they aren’t too keen on sharing the goods with all those seated at the table. Icelandic immigration law only accepted 135 people into the country in 2017. The immigration office received a total of 1095 applications from 64 countries. Studies show that the Nordic countries are among the most hostile countries towards immigrants in the world.


When I worked for UN Women, many people voiced their disapproval of the organization's policies to aim most of their help and support toward foreign countries rather than Iceland.

“I think we should be aiming to help ‘our own people,” a woman once said to me. This is a common opinion. Some are more radical than that.

“I’d rather kill all those muslim bitches than help one of them,” a stranger once yelled at me when he saw me wearing a UN Women T-shirt.

Iceland is 103,000 square kilometers. Despite being the second largest island in Europe, the country is only home to 337,208 inhabitants. Of those inhabitants, 10.8 percent are immigrants. A total of 135 individuals were granted international protection in Iceland last year.  By 2017, applications for international protection in Iceland were 1095


Nazanin Askari is one example of a refugee living in Iceland. Nazanin was born in Tehran. In 2012 she left everything behind in Iran and came to Iceland as a political refugee. Before she fled the country, Nazanin was a student of English literature. She has been interested in politics since she was a child and in 2009 she was hopeful that the Iranian presidential elections would lead to progress towards democracy. 

 Nazanin Askari speaking for refugees and immigrants rights in downtown Reykjavík Image Credit: mbl.is/Styrmir Kári

Nazanin Askari speaking for refugees and immigrants rights in downtown Reykjavík
Image Credit: mbl.is/Styrmir Kári

After the elections, Nazanin and her fellow students protested against the electoral procedure and were arrested. Before Nazanin was to be sentenced, her father paid a human smuggler a large sum of money to get her to Canada. Nazanin hopes that the situation in Iran will improve so she will be able to return to her home country.

"I was born 30 years ago. It has been 39 years since Iran became an Islamic state, since all women were killed by crimes, censorship and freedom of civilians were reduced. For 39 years, everything in my country changed. What was worse was worse. Dreams of a better life after the revolution in 1979 became nothing. "

On her long and difficult journey, she was kept in hiding in various places with no idea where she was. Two years later, the man escorting her, abandoned her at Keflavík Airport. About a year after her arrival in Iceland, Nazanin was granted a refugee status. She is in close contact online with friends in other countries who are campaigning for human rights in Iran.

“Someday I will be powerful enough to break the gender discrimination back in my beloved country so that the women I know are free to go on trips with their male and female coworkers without being judged or accused.”

She misses her parents and is in contact with them online. They sometimes send her parcels of dried fruits, nuts, etc. from home. Today, Iceland is her second home. She is passionate about equality and human rights.

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