Icelanders offer up homes to Syrian refugees

When the Icelandic government announced that they would accept 50 refugees over the next two years, its citizens rallied, using a Facebook event page to volunteer their homes and pressure the government to grant more refugees asylum.

Facebook users offer help after government says it will take 50 refugees over two years

More 16,000 people have joined the page as of Thursday afternoon to host refugee families or to volunteer their time and resources, though not all of them are Icelandic. (Kay Nietfeld/Associated Press Icelandair/Associated Press)

When the Icelandic government announced it would accept 50 refugees, its citizens rallied, using a Facebook event page to volunteer their homes and pressure the government to grant more refugees asylum.

On Sunday, award-winning author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir set up the page Syria is Calling. The group aims to present Iceland's welfare minister Eygló Harðardóttir a list of volunteers willing to house Syrian refugees.

"We want to push the government — show them that we can do better, and do so immediately!" Bjorgvinsdottir wrote in the group description. 

It's one of the biggest human crises we've seen in my lifetime at least.- Eyglo Arnarsdottir, 35-year-old journalist in Reykjavik

"Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children's band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host."

More than 16,000 people had joined the page as of Thursday afternoon, though not all of them are Icelandic. 

Icelandic volunteers, supporters from other countries and many who purport to be Syrians attempting to find their way to Iceland have all posted to the page. Bjorgvinsdottir has offered to pay for the flights of five Syrians and house them with a friend. 

On Monday, Eyglo Arnarsdottir heard about the Facebook group on the news. She was unimpressed with the number of refugees the government said it would accept, so the next day she signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross. 

"It's one of the biggest human crises we've seen in my lifetime at least," said the 35-year-old journalist in Reykjavik. She's waiting to hear from the Red Cross about how she can assist, though she says she could help teach them Icelandic and guide them around her city. 

"I think it's an obligation all of us have to help in any way. With my effort, if I could help one person or one family, it would be worth it."

Couple wants to foster children

Hakon Gudrodarson, 28, pledged soon after the Facebook page launched to take care of any unaccompanied minors who need assistance. Gudrodarson says he and his partner have long wanted to become foster parents for a refugee child, but since he's gay, many of the countries in need won't allow them to do so.

He's considered having a child through a surrogate mother in the past, but decided it would be better to adopt.

"Why are we going to go through all this trouble when there are so many children in the world who need homes?" Gudrodarson said.

Gudrodarson, who owns a hotel in the rural town of Neskaupstaður, said the area is safe and "picture-perfect." He's willing to pay for flights and provide clothing, if necessary, and estimates he could take in about three children.

Iceland isn't exactly known for its openness toward refugees. 

"Iceland traditionally accepts well below the proportionate average of its share of asylum seekers. And those who manage to come here without being expressly invited are, more often than not, deported," said Paul Fontaine, a journalist for the magazine Reykjavik Grapevine, in an email.

Fontaine has pledged on the Facebook page to volunteer, and hopes to donate his daughter's old clothes and toys.

Icelandic Red Cross welcomes volunteers

The Icelandic Red Cross has praised the Facebook group. 

"It is without a doubt due to this support on social media that on Tuesday, almost 100 volunteers showed up at Red Cross headquarters to complete their registration as active volunteers, ready to provide assistance," the organization wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

Perhaps inspired by Icelandic efforts, a few Canadians have taken to the page to offer refugees a place to live.

"I will pay for flights for three. I can and will support them till they support themselves," wrote Michelle Blanchard, who added that she lives in Edmonton with rooms to spare.

One user, who identified himself as Mahmoud, posted on the Facebook page Tuesday that he needs help to escape Syria. He said he entered Turkey two days prior after leaving the Syrian city of Azaz. He wrote that he had three children with him. 

Users on the Facebook group have suggested means to bring him to Iceland, including redirecting him to the Icelandic Red Cross.

Iceland's government has also begun to respond to the Facebook group.

"Lots of people are encouraging us to take more. I am very optimistic. We don't plan to build new refugee camps. We want people to get into Icelandic society. They get jobs, they get housing, their children are in our schools and get invited to birthday parties," said the welfare minister to Euronews.

Both Gudrodarson and Arnarsdottir are waiting to hear more and expect it could be some time until there are updates. 

"I know realistically we won't become foster parents for refugee children in the next month," Gudrodarson said. "If the parents are serious enough, this might become an option for us next year."


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