Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 07:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Iceland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Iceland , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, Iceland hosted 63 asylum seekers and refugees in need of protection. These included 44 Kosovo Albanian refugees, 5 persons granted permission to stay on humanitarian grounds, and 14 asylum seekers with pending claims.

Given its geographic isolation, Iceland receives few asylum seekers. In 1999, 17 individuals submitted asylum applications, a slight decrease from the 19 applications Iceland received in 1998. The largest number arrived from the Ukraine (6), followed by Albania (4) and Iraq (3).

During the year, the authorities issued eight decisions on asylum applications. Of these, Iceland granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds to five persons and rejected two applicants. The authorities closed one application.

Resettled Refugees

The first resettled refugees arrived from Vietnam in the 1970s. According to the authorities, 128 Vietnamese refugees lived in Iceland at the end of 1999. During the 1990s, some 160 refugees from the former Yugoslavia – mostly from the Krajina region in present day Croatia – have resettled in Iceland.

Iceland has developed a comprehensive resettlement program for the refugees it resettles. The federal government provides financial grants to local municipalities to resettle refugees, while the Icelandic Red Cross and the Refugee Council within the Ministry of Social Affairs create individualized adjustment programs for the refugees. Generally, each refugee or refugee family is matched with three local families who act as sponsors and introduce Icelandic language and culture to the refugees. During the first year, refugees receive subsidized housing and a stipend so they can participate in intensive language lessons and vocational training. Refugees have access to the same medical care and educational institutions as Icelandic nationals.

Asylum Procedure

Iceland has acceded to the UN Refugee Convention. No national refugee legislation exists. Iceland does, however, have procedures for granting asylum under Article 10 of the 1965 Aliens Law. In 1999, Iceland was drafting a refugee law, which is expected to reach the Icelandic parliament by May 2000.

The Directorate of Immigration – the government agency that issues passports, visas, and residence permits – is responsible for processing asylum claims. In October 1999, the directorate became an independent agency; previously, it had been part of the national police. Police and customs officials monitor the borders and control entry to the country. Under Icelandic law, border officials must consult the directorate before denying entry to individuals arriving without valid visas or passports.

The Icelandic Red Cross covers all expenses for asylum seekers awaiting a decision at the directorate. The Red Cross provides accommodations, clothing, medical care, and a weekly financial allowance to asylum seekers. The directorate usually issues a decision on an asylum application within three to nine months.

During 1999, human rights monitors criticized the much-publicized arrest and prolonged detention of a Kurdish asylum seeker. The Kurd reportedly arrived in Iceland through the help of an organized smuggling ring. The authorities had yet to issue a decision on his application by year's end.

Kosovo Albanians

In April, the government announced it would accept 100 Kosovo Albanians under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP). During the year, 75 Kosovo Albanians actually arrived under the HEP. Initially, the authorities planned to offer the Kosovars temporary protection but eventually decided to grant them permanent residence status. The HEP evacuees become eligible for Icelandic citizenship after five years of residence.

The government permitted Kosovo Albanians already living in Iceland to lodge applications for family reunification. Kosovars who had been residents of Iceland for three years were allowed to apply to sponsor the entry of parents, spouses, and dependent children under the age of 21. By the end of April 1999, 170 Kosovars had submitted applications for family reunification.

After NATO troops entered Kosovo, some HEP evacuees expressed a desire to return home. In response, Iceland devised a return program that covers transportation costs and offers a grant of 100,000 Icelandic Crowns ($1,400) to each repatriating adult. The Icelandic Red Cross also provides returning Kosovo Albanians with material assistance such as tools to begin reconstruction in Kosovo. By year's end, 31 of the HEP evacuees had repatriated to Kosovo.


Iceland, like Norway, is a signatory of the Schengen Convention but not a member of the European Union (EU). Following an October meeting with the EU officials, Iceland announced it would begin efforts to integrate into the Schengen area of free movement. Iceland is expected to become a full Schengen member by March 2001. Iceland also declared its willingness to adopt the Tampere Summit Conclusions. Negotiations between Iceland and the EU will continue, as an agreement integrating Iceland into the Dublin Convention remains to be concluded (see chart).

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