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Iceland Considers Taking In More Syrian Refugees


The migrants and refugees who have been pouring into Europe have mostly not been welcomed with open arms. And then there is a tiny nation in the North Atlantic - Iceland. Knowing that Civil War has caused 4 million Syrians to flee their country, Iceland offered to help by taking in 50 of them. It was a gesture of help, but certainly many Icelanders didn't think it was generous enough. They created a Facebook page asking for people to take refugees into their homes. Over the weekend, 12,000 people out of Iceland's population of just over 300,000 have signed up and now Iceland's government says it will consider taking in more Syrians. Tryggvi Adalbjornsson is a reporter with Icelandic National Broadcasting Service and joins us. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: How did this idea catch on?

ADALBJORNSSON: Well, Icelanders, just like the rest of the world, of course, had been watching this week after week, month after month, and over the weekend a local children's book author, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir, she started this Facebook page, and it was set up kind of like an open letter to the Icelandic welfare minister asking the minister for permission for her, the author, to bring people in herself. She offered to pay for airline tickets, and she said her friend was able to offer them housing for five people in addition to those 50 that the government had previously said it would accept into the country. Now, this being a small country, 50 people - although not being a high number, it is a lot because in the last 50 or 60 years Iceland has accepted in total around 500 refugees. But this crisis being so dire, people are not thinking it's enough.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us about some of the responses people posted on that Facebook page.

ADALBJORNSSON: Thousands of people started posting on the same page offering food, clothing, language teaching, etc., toys and all kinds of stuff to help Syrians and accommodate potential refugees into the country. And this being such a small population in Iceland, it's probably the reason why this has happened this quickly. Messages get shared really fast, government officials are used to giving their initial reactions to things like that, and the minister - the welfare minister - was being addressed on the page in the open letter. She responded positively and this kind of caught on, and in the end, thousands of people had given their supports, at least on this Facebook page.

MONTAGNE: Do you have one message on the Facebook page that stuck out for you?

ADALBJORNSSON: Well, here's one which is getting almost 150 likes on the Facebook page. It's from a woman named Aslaug Hauksdottir. She says, dear Eyglo - addressing the welfare minister - I can take care of children, I can take them to preschool and to school and everything that is needed. I can offer people food in my house, and I can show them friendship and warmth. I can also pay for airline tickets for one little family, and I can put my knowledge into helping pregnant women.

MONTAGNE: That's extremely generous what she's offering and especially if you're talking about several, some thousands of people there in Iceland. But you know, at a certain point there needs to be jobs, and the families can't presumably stay with Icelandic families forever. Is that what people are also looking at?

ADALBJORNSSON: Yeah, this is of course the problem with this - is that this is all still disorganized, and if the government wants to use this moment, it really has to set up some kind of structure to be able to make this work.

MONTAGNE: That was Tryggvi Adalbjornsson. He's a reporter with Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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