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Refugee debate reaches Iceland’s isolated shores

  • Author: Matt Tunseth
  • Updated: August 15, 2016
  • Published August 15, 2016

An anti-refugee protester holds a sign opposing a proposal in the Icelandic parliament that would allow more refugees and asylum seekers into the North Atlantic nation during demonstrations on Monday, August 15, 2016 in Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo by Matt Tunseth)

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Supporters of allowing refugees and asylum seekers into Iceland and members of the country's anti-refugee Iceland National Front held simultaneous demonstrations on Monday in front of the country's parliament building as lawmakers debated whether to allow more refugees into the small North Atlantic nation.

The demonstrations held in Austurvöllur Square in the heart of the capital city were peaceful, although several arguments broke out between the groups. At one point, the pro-refugee faction linked hands in a sign of solidarity and encircled the anti-refugee protesters. A small group of police stood watch, but there were no signs of violence.

The pro-refugee group sang songs, handed out coffee and banged drums, while the anti-refugee group mainly stood silently holding signs in front of the parliament building.

Pro- and anti-refugee demonstrators argue August 15, 2016, in Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavik, Iceland.  (Matt Tunseth)

The rallies were held on the parliament's first day back in session after the governing body's summer break. Lawmakers in Iceland are debating a proposal that would bring more refugees into the country.

An island nation of just 330,000 people, Iceland has largely been isolated from the refugee debates that have gripped the rest of Europe in recent years. However, according to the English-language Iceland Monitor newspaper, 48 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the country this year, with about 50 more expected by year's end.

Alaska journalist Matt Tunseth is traveling in Iceland. He is a former Alaska Dispatch News reporter, was managing editor of the Frontiersman and was editor of the Anchorage Press. 

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