Thursday, December 3, 2009

Immigrants Wronged

Update: The Office of Foreigner Affairs has stated that Ben Frost's application for permanent residence was denied, but that he can continue here on a renewed temporary residence permit The fact that there was that much confusion surrounding the issue kinda proves my point, and I can't help but think that if Mr. Frost were less well known and the story hadn't been published he would likely not have gotten to renew his temp permit either...

It’s one of those situations that would make Kafka ask “Are you all high or something?”. More than a year on from the collapse of the Icelandic economy, hardly a charge has been brought, nary a report published regarding what has to be counted as one of the biggest, most blatant con jobs history.

The institutions responsible for figuring out what happened, why it happened, and who profited from it happening all claim to be under funded and swamped, and any information they do have is kept secret, either locked in the offices of Parliament or banned from publication because of bankaleynd. The only information released this week was the announcement that much of the information gathered will not be released for up to 80 years because it involves “personal information” i.e. salaries and bank statements.

Meanwhile young people, many of them well-educated family folk, are leaving the country to look for greener pastures in the outlands, causing the media to bemoan the brain drain and shrinking size of a country which just recently managed to spawn its way over the 300,000 mark.

At the same time an organization has sprung up that vows to physically prevent people from being evicted from their homes due to repossession orders, and the papers are a buzz with tales of how Icelandic immigration laws are being used to keep non-EU immigrants trapped in abusive marriages.

So people are bailing, and the people who caused them to bail are protected by banking laws that prevent their financial information from being made public, or even being made readily available to the people investigating the collapse. People facing the likelihood of loosing their homes are being offered a radical form of help, and women victimized twice over, once by their spouses and once by the state are finally getting a fair hearing.

At the same time, buried in the back section of Mogginn, we learn that a tax-paying, self-employed (he runs a recording studio amongst other things), home owning Australian father of an Icelandic child by the name of Ben Frost is being deported after he was denied a renewal for his residency.

The reason?

He didn’t earn enough money his first year in the country.

Now, this begs the question, if the banksters that sunk the Icetanic are protected by laws that make it massively difficult, expensive, and time consuming to get at their financial data, how come this poor guy’s finances are an open book to the Office of Foreigner Persecu…I mean “Affairs “?

And why would said office move to deport a tax-paying, home-owning, Icelandic child-raising man who has actually managed to make a living as an artist (and hence, as he states in the article cannot be accused of “stealing jobs from Icelanders”) who wants to stay here? Why further decrease the State’s tax base, let alone deprive a child of access to their father? Isn’t it a tad odd that the same government that wails about Icelandic families being forced to move abroad for economic reasons sees fit to expel someone who wants to stay and is contributing to the tax rolls? Where are the people offering to defend him from being evicted not only from his house, but from his business, his family, and his work? Where is the media buzz about this guy being fucked over by immigration law?

The only answer I can come up with is the same one I’ve ranted about before, namely that the Office of Foreigner Affairs, formerly the Office of Foreigner Surveillance, has an unwritten policy of using any means at its disposal to deport as many non-EU immigrants as they can. I don’t know if it’s because they’re miffed at not being able to easily deport EU immigrants, or if they just figure that non-EU equals “dirty brown people”, or if they’re just balls-out equal-opportunity xenophobes. Either way, it’s not just wrong, its stupid.

Predictable, but stupid.

One of the first symptoms of economic downturn tends to be scapegoating foreigners for “stealing jobs” or “free-loading on benefits”. As for the first, most of the immigrants that are still here are working at the same kind of jobs we had during those flat-screen colored Hummer-scented days of yore, i.e. the jobs Icelanders didn’t want, and judging from the problems the Social Services and other organizations that pay low wages for under-appreciated work are having rehiring after thousands of foreign workers that left the country over the last year, they still don’t want.

As for “free-loading on benefits”, no matter what the published regulations say, non-EU immigrants can’t even apply for social benefits, like rent support, unemployment, or student loans, without calling down the full fury of the authorities on their heads. Even EU immigrants, who legally have the right to benefits are regularly denied them via various bureaucratic means (like a couple I know that was denied rent-support because the apartment they rent “did not fulfill the requirements” despite the fact that it did last year, when it was rented out to Icelanders).

So what should we do about this? Essentially we have an institution that collectively acts to persecute people for violations of rules that they do their damnedest not to share, or even write down, who’s decisions are made in nigh-secrecy and who’s rulings cannot be appealed, backed up by a long tradition of official xenophobia (including everything from the “special understanding” that kept black servicemen off the NATO base for years, denying Jewish refugees asylum during WWII and then denying “Arab” refugees asylum due to the wars the government pledged support for, or even the fact that the law legalizing the murder of “Turks” was still on the books until the 90’s).

In an ethical society, such an institution would be shut down; it’s ethically defensible functions shifted to a new organization unpolluted by its predecessor, and all the cases, laws, and regulations reviewed. The very fact that this institution operates under the offices of the newly renamed Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is so full of irony that you could make nails out of it.

But that’s not going to happen here. Leaving aside the fact that the ministry in question once (and for all anyone seems to know still does) served as a cover for a domestic intelligence operation (something which no elected official with an ounce of sense or a hint of bone in the closet will tangle with), the fact is that their actions are viewed by a large segment of the population here as not only useful, but right.

There is xenophobia here, even though few will admit to it. I mean, look at the news over the last few years. There have been many reported cases of tax-paying law-abiding immigrants being deported on a technicality, and likely a great many that went unreported. There is the fact that Iceland as a rule simply will not accept asylum-seekers, no matter the justness of the refugee’s claims. Foreign activists have been placed under surveillance, deported or threaten with deportation for protesting, while Icelandic hate-groups with ties to violent skin-head organizations are written off as “just confused teenagers”. The media continues to make sure to report the nationality of anyone accused of or charged with a crime, unless they’re Icelandic (as special exception is made for “technical” Icelanders, they get reported as an “Icelandic citizen of such-and-such descent”), giving the impression that all criminals are foreign, and hence all foreigners criminal.

This sort of engrained thinking is not going to change overnight and revamping and or totally overhauling the Office of Foreigner Affairs is nowhere near a priority in Parliament or society right now.

So what to do?

I have a cunning plan.

We put the rabid xenophobic bureaucrats to work for us. All we have to do is revoke the banksters citizenship, and maybe change a few names. Next thing you know the cops will be kicking down their doors, handcuffing them, taking all their money and documents as “evidence”, (after all, foreigners have no right to financial privacy or due-process in open court, at least when they are being persecuted by the Office of Foreigner Affairs) and before the banksters can say “boo” they’ll be deported to one of the don’t-call-it-a-concentration-camp asylum shantytowns in Greece, although they might have just enough time to hunger-strike in front of the police station.

Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that.

But of course, because the banksters are well connected to the powers that were and the powers that are, such an action would inspire a tidal wave of criticism and investigation, in all likelihood resulting in a top-to-bottom overhaul of the office, if not the creation of a totally new one. After all, we can’t have a state institution running around willy-nilly looking into people’s finances, detaining them at whim, or expelling them from the island at a moment’s notice. Such behavior would be roundly condemned and major changes made.

See, everybody wins in my world…

But we don’t live in my world. Which is sad, and not just due to this world’s worrying lack of Salma Hayek look-a-likes.

So the Aussie musician will probably be deported. So will I, eventually. So will a lot of good people who came here to try to make a life for themselves, who skimped and saved, got by on less than their Icelandic peers, with less support and more opposition from a government that does its damnedest to regulate us into a powerless pool of cheap labor and convenient scapegoats.

The stupidity of expelling productive people, whether for reasons of xenophobia, economics, politics, or simple bloody minded bureaucracy galls. The fact that it is accepted by so many, and actively pursued by the powers that be calls out for correction.

Ministry of Justice and Human Rights my ass…