News in Brief Early May 2014

28.5.2014
Words by Larissa Kyzer
So, summer has officially begun here in Iceland, which means it’s whaling season again.

Whaling is currently permitted in Reykjavík’s Faxaflói Bay—the same waters in which tourists go on whale-watching expeditions. This grim irony has led many whale watching companies to call for a larger “no hunting area” around the city. Given that whale watching yielded over four billion ISK last year, it’s perhaps no wonder that all of the candidates for Reykjavík’s mayor have voiced their support for this idea, as well as for banning whaling ships from docking in Reykjavík’s harbour. But ultimately, only Minister of Fisheries Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson could enact such changes.

In other news, the Reykjavík police force has pledged to increase the number of bike cops around town, hoping to increase their visibility with the public, and also to cover more ground faster than would be possible on foot or in patrol cars.

Such speedy law-enforcement could have proved useful in Akranes earlier this month, when a man walked into a local shop, filled a basket with groceries, asked for a pack of cigarettes and then walked out without paying, challenging the employees to “just call the police.” Apparently he forgot something on his shopping list, because that same evening the brazen shop-and-dasher returned to the scene of the crime for an after-hours break-in. After much confusion and several rounds of questioning, he confessed to both crimes.

Meanwhile, Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir is still not willing to admit to her misdeeds in the (mis)handling of Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos’s case. She also continues to play fast and loose with facts: most recently, she said she couldn’t comment while police are still investigating (not true). Previously, she stated that a memo leaked to the public relaying false information about Tony did not come from her ministry (not true), and also that—based on the terms of the Dublin Regulation—Iceland was obliged to deport Tony back to Switzerland, the country he arrived from before seeking asylum here. (Any guesses? It’s not true!)  

While investigations into the Tony Omos case are ongoing, blundered deportation attempts continue to be an issue. This month, the Reykjavík District Court ruled against the Ministry of the Interior and the Directorate of Immigration’s decision to deport “A,” an Iraqi asylum seeker who arrived to Iceland in 2012. A’s 800,000 ISK in legal fees will be paid by the defendants, but whether or not he will be granted asylum is still an open question.

Pause for a little good news? Iceland is still a pretty good place to be a mother. According to the annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report issued by the NGO Save The Children, Iceland is the fourth best country in the world to be a mother. Of the 178 countries reviewed, Finland is the best, followed closely behind by Norway and Sweden.

Picking up where April left off, May saw several high profile labour strikes in Iceland. Elementary school teachers went on strike, closing schools for a day while negotiators discussed salary increases. And The Icelandic Airline Pilots' Association (FÍA) also went on strike, forcing Icelandair to cancel 26 flights to and from Keflavík International Airport. It’s estimated that the strike could cost the tourism industry billions, not only in liability payments to travellers on cancelled flights but also in hotel room and car rental cancellations.

In the wake of this pilot strike and a previous strike among airport employees, Minister of Interior Hanna Birna (yep, her again—see above) introduced a controversial new law forbidding Icelandair pilots from striking.

Örnólfur Jónsson, the director of FÍA, told reporters that the law will be respected but that pilots may still refuse to work overtime while a collective bargaining agreement is pending. This may seem like an ineffective bargaining tactic but in Iceland’s bustling summer tourist season pilots are frequently asked to fly additional trips and work overtime. Case in point: Icelandair already had to cancel flights to and from the US because pilots and mechanics refused to work overtime shifts.

Meanwhile, work is steady for Director Baltasar Kormákur. After wrapping on ‘Everest,’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin, he’s already gearing up to film and co-produce the English-language epic ‘Vikings.’ And, appropriately for our hometown hero, Baltasar is also in talks to direct ‘Reykjavík,’ a historical drama which will chronicle US President Ronald Reagan (played by Michael Douglas) and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1986 Reykjavík Summit.

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