Immigrants – Pandora’s Box in Iceland

I am really tired of a whole range of arguments which surround the debate on immigrants these days. Everybody knows the story of Pandora´s box in Greek mythology. Zeus gave Pandora, the first woman of mankind, a box full of treasures, forbidding her to open it. But Pandora couldn’t resist the temptation to have a look into the box. When she opened it, all sorts of evils and disasters came out from the box and spread into the world…

This may be the situation around the debate on immigrants in Iceland now. The Liberal Party opened the box of Pandora and all sorts of “innflytjendavandamál” – immigrants’ problems – came flooding out into our society. Many Icelanders must have been waiting for the opportunity to say something about immigrants in this country- something negative. So, “Hurray! Everybody, hurray! Throw in everything all ”.

It is astonishing to see what a problem we immigrants are for Icelanders and for this society. As a part of the “problem”, I feel ashamed of having been so ignorant of this till now. Let me show you some examples of what has come out in the recent debate:

  • There are too many immigrants. Soon there will be more of them than the Icelanders!
  • Immigrant workers are cheaper labour in the Icelandic labour market. Their existence pushes the wage level down for all.
  • Immigrant workers deprive Icelanders of job opportunities.
  • Icelandic language courses consume huge expenses, which are basically taxes from Icelanders.
  • Some immigrants insist on the importance of education in their mother tongue education and ask for support from the government and the municipalities. Why should Icelanders take care of that?
  • Icelanders cannot communicate in Icelandic when they meet foreign workers at shops, institutes or other places. Why do they have to face such a situation in their own country?
  • Some immigrants cannot understand anything in Icelandic, yet they vote inmunicipalities election.
  • Immigrants don’t respect the laws in Iceland.They try to import their own laws. Many Eastern Europeans drive while they are intoxicated, cause car-accidents or get arrested.
  • Immigrants bring organized crime into Iceland, such as drugs and human trafficking.
  • They also commit crimes as individuals, such as robbery and rape.
  • Immigrants don’t respect Icelandic culture and traditions. They belong to different churches and even believe in different gods. They don’t have the same values as Icelanders.
  • If the number of Muslims increases in this society, it will be a total disaster for Iceland. They stick together, respect only their own laws, mistreat women and break the order of the society……

There must be more, but I think this is enough for now. All of the above statements are discussed now as a part of the “immigrant problem”. This is like a buffet at Christmastime. People can pick whatever they like from the varied menu of “The Immigrant Problem”.

When this one word “immigrants” is uttered, it includes immigrant workers who have recently come from the EEA, it includes wives from Asia or Africa who have Icelandic husbands, formal refugees who have settled down, their children and those who have already obtained citizenship. And it includes all therest, namely all those who are not native here. No wonder that the discussion cannot go forward or make any sense. This is much too vague for constructive talk.

Being cynical and only standing aloof is not my taste. So I would like to make a small effort to put things back in order. It is not only negative things that people have thrown in. A small common ground can be a place to start. Now lets look at the buffet table of the “Immigrant Problem”. Which part of the “problem” really concerns us immigrants?

  • First of all, immigrants are not just increasing in numbers by themselves. The main factor that calls them to Iceland is big industrial projects, such as Kárahnjúkar. While people are shouting about too many foreign workers, Norsk Hydro is showing interest in building another aluminium plant. These projects are made in the name of the government and affirmed by the Icelandic people. If Icelanders think they see too many guest-workers here, shouldn’t they stop these huge projects?? The increase in numbers of foreign workers is not in the hands of immigrants. It is in the hands of the Icelandic government.
  • The same thing can be said about EEA. The free movement of labour within the EEA is a mutual obligation for all the EEA members. Again, the origin of the stream of guest workers is located within the Icelandic authorities, and by Iceland´s decision to belong to the EEA.
  • Immigrants cannot steal jobs from Icelanders when there is only 1% unemployment.
  • Icelanders but not immigrants decide the wages which immigrants are being paid. The wage issue belongs to the Icelanders and the native employers.
  • True, lessons in the Icelandic language cost a lot. Tax money is needed to pay for that. But who pays the taxes? Is it just the Icelanders? No, it is also we immigrants who pay the taxes.
  • Most Icelanders have no idea how much they are gaining from immigrants’ families and their bilingual children! The negative view on educational possibilities in one´s mother tongue is nothing but ignorance.
  • As far as Iknow, the Icelandic police see organized crime as a sort of “cooperation” between Icelandic criminals and foreign criminals. The other crimes such as rape, burglary or intoxicated driving, are of course matters.But those crimes concern criminals, not nationality or people´s origin.
  • True, Muslims live here, but why is this potentially part of a problem? We cannot just import international propaganda and use it as a weapon to attack immigrants who are here now.
  • I have much to contradict the assertion that immigrants have a different system of values than Icelanders, and that therefore they cannot live with Icelanders and their culture.. I will wait for another opportunity to express myself about this.

I am not saying that everything is fine with immigrants’ issues in Iceland. There are certainly things that we have to think through, discuss and work on. In order to do so, however, we need to follow the facts, specify the matter, analyse it and discuss it objectively. It is also important that we explain our own philosophy regarding how we want our society to develop and how we want to live. Dear readers, that is a natural procedure in how to handles these issues. But sometimes people don’t follow the most natural and fair procedure. They may even forget it and fall into chaos. Soon it will be time for us to leave this chaotic situation and begin to work on real issues.

I remember the end of the story of the Pandora´s box. After all the evils have come out into human society, only “hope” remains in the hands of Pandora. Hope was Pandora´s only tool to work with, but it in the end it was enough to start with. I want to believe the same. We have “hope” for a better future in our hands, both Icelanders and immigrants, and that’s where we have to start working together.

(Toshiki Toma, pastor for immigrants and political scientist)