Colombian refugees make Iceland their new home

Iceland recently welcomed eight Colombian women with their children to seek refuge from the country’s struggle between government and rebel groups, according to a UNHCR press release.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, arranged for the group of 30 refugees to move to Iceland in light of their dire situations in Colombia.

One of the refugees, Marta, is now living in Reykjavik with her son to escape his recruitment into one of the armed groups.

“The groups wanted to recruit my 17-year-old son,” Marta said. “We had already fled twice, first to my mother’s village and then further to Ecuador, but they managed to trace us and threatened to take my son and kill me for hiding him. We were all very scared.”

Although the move to Iceland brought them to safety, the refugees still harboured fears of rejection in their new home.

“I knew nothing of Iceland in advance. I did not even know such a country existed,” Marta said. “The Red Cross showed us a film, and I was surprised how white the people looked. I was afraid they would find us ugly.”

Iceland has welcomed around 100 Colombian refugees in the past. Since 1996, the UNHCR has arranged for a total of 247 refugees to resettle in Iceland, with an emphasis on single women and single mothers with children.

When the refugees arrive in Reykjavik, they are given accommodation, six to twelve months of language lessons and help in adjusting to their new environment. Vocational training and job seeking programmes help the refugees to fully settle into their new life.

Marta expressed how grateful she was to begin life anew in a safer environment. “We have a wonderful home here. The children can go to school, which would not have been possible in Colombia, and even play football and go swimming. I would never have been able to give these opportunities to my children back home.”