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A second chance in Iceland - No one flees without a good reason

© UNHCR/Ari Sigvaldason
A new home in Iceland.

Some four years ago eight women and twenty-one children from Iraq found themselves on foreign soil starting a new life in the small town of Akranes, Iceland. The Palestinian refugees had lived in the make-shift camp Al-Waleed in Iraq and were resettled with the help of UNHCR. Coming to Iceland was not only a wonderful second chance for the families, it was also ambivalent.

- I was a little numb to the news at first. And then it dawned on me, that I would be leaving my parents, family and friends behind. I had no other choice but to go to Iceland, if I were to get myself and children out of the refugee camp. So it saddened me deeply that I had to go to Iceland and leave everyone behind, says Anna*, one of the Palestinian women.

Prior to the refugees’ arrival, a strong debate had taken place in Akranes about whether or not the city should accept the refugees. Sigríður Víðis Jónsdóttir, a young Icelandic journalist, felt that the context of the women and children’s turbulent refugee background was missing in the debate.

- I wanted to explain that there is a reason why people get resettled, says Sigríður passionately.

Initially, Sigríður just wanted to write an article about the refugees. She felt the debate in Iceland was partly due to lack of understanding of the desperate situation refugees face.

- No one decides to leave their home and family without a very good reason. People have to ask themselves, what was so bad that these refugees would rather live in a miserable refugee camp in inhumane conditions, explains Sigríður.

Some months after the Palestinian refugees were resettled the ambitious journalist had her first interview with the women. She quickly realised that their stories could not be conveyed in an article and decided to carve their stories into a book. Anna was one of the Palestinian women who decided to tell her story to Sigríður.

- I wanted Icelanders to know our story, to know why we came to Iceland as refugees. I wanted for people to know what being a refugee meant. I felt it was important to share what we had experienced and gone through in our life time, what made us flee as refugees, leading us to where we are now, says Anna.

The women’s stories took Sigríður on research trips to Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. It took three years for her to turn the stories into a book. The book “Nationality: None - The Escape from Iraq to Akranes” became an award winning bestseller.  

- I hope that the readers are able to mirror themselves in the stories of these eight remarkable women. I hope that people realise refugees are just ordinary people – like you and me – who have ended up in a very unfortunate situation. Iceland gave these women and their families a second chance. My wish is that the readers appreciate the stories of these women, their strength, and the fact that they three years later understand Icelandic and many of them also speak it really good. I think it is incredible!, says Sigríður.  

As for Anna, she hopes for a bright future where she is no longer a refugee.

- I cannot wait to get a citizenship. I am a 32 year old woman that has never had any sort of officially documented nationality. So, getting a citizenship and loosing the label of being a 'refugee' is what I am most looking forward to in my future.

The book is thus far only available in Icelandic but an English version may be on the way.

* Due to security reasons Anna does not want to use her real name.


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