Racism becomes hot topic in Iceland

Following the shocking story of a father and son of Cuban origin who felt compelled to leave Iceland over racially motivated bullying and attacks this weekend, other stories are coming to light and the issue of racism has become a hot media topic.

A support march for the Cuban father and son is scheduled to take place in Reykjavik this Saturday with the backing of the city’s ruling Best Party. It starts at Hallgrimskirkja church at 14.00.

Akeem Cujo-Oppong, head of the Icelandic Panorama Association says he was very surprised by the news and says such overt racism is highly unusual. He has also called on the father and son to return home to Iceland.

He added however, that his association regularly deals with more minor forms of discrimination.

An Icelandic woman and her Nigerian husband have joined the debate, saying they experience discrimination regularly and are considering a possible move to a more multi-ethnic country.

Jonina Ragnarsdottir and Ebenezer Fakolate got married a year ago. They live in Hafnarfjordur and are expecting their first child together. Ragnarsdottir has two other children from a previous marriage to a man from Uganda. The couple believe prejudice persists in Iceland because of the small population size. Discrimination comes in many forms, including people staring – and recently in the form of a potential employer denying there was even a job on offer when Ebenezer walked in the door.

Jonina Ragnarsdottir says she was sad to hear her five year-old daughter say one day that nobody wanted to play with her at pre-school “because she is brown”.

The couple point out that things are slowly changing as Iceland becomes more diverse and they hope the current level of awareness will continue. If not, they may very well leave the country altogether.

There is also a glimmer of hope in new research from the University of Akureyri suggesting that children with foreign parents are doing better in Icelandic schools than ever. They remain, however, twice as likely to suffer bullying than children of Icelandic parents.

The results of the Icelandic leg of a regular survey conducted jointly in 50 countries showed that 8 percent of children with two Icelandic parents admit to being bullied; 12 percent with one foreign parent; and 16 percent with two parents of foreign origin. Changes have been made to the school system in recent years to help children of foreign origin, and results seem positive, although there is clearly still some way to go.

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