Earth & Conservation

Iceland Is Hosting a New Year's Party for Asylum Seekers

An Icelandic charity wants to help the country's influx of refugees ring in 2017.

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In 2016, more than 1,000 refugees came to Iceland escaping political unrest and economic hardship in their home countries. This New Year's Eve, some Icelanders want to make sure they get to celebrate the holidays too.

The Akkeri (Anchor) charity is hosting a New Year's Eve party Saturday for refugees in Iceland at the Reykjavik city hall, located on picturesque Lake Tjornin, reported the Belfast Telegraph. The party will serve coffee and cake before an evening of dancing and entertainment.

Many of Iceland's asylum seekers have been isolated in rural areas awaiting the results of their application for months. "It's good for people to be able to have some fun and to become human again for a while," Thorunn Olafsdottir, the Akkeri charity director told the Morgunbladid newspaper.

Before their applications have been approved, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and live only on a small government stipend. Akkeri hopes this party will provide some relief from that struggle. "This is an experiment in showing people that they are worth something and that they are welcome in our community," Olafsdottir said.

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Through calls for action on social media, Akkeri has been able to secure at least 40 volunteers for the New Year's party, as well as donations to put on the event. They saw similar success from a social media campaign they launched over the summer, raising money and recruiting volunteers for a festival to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid on the Greek-Macedonian border.

Many of Iceland's refugees come from the western Balkans, including Albania and Macedonia, but this year they also began accepting Syrian refugees to help the rest of Europe cope with the large number of people seeking asylum in their countries.

At the pinnacle of the refugee crisis last year, thousands of people offered to take in Syrian asylum seekers, sparked by an author's letter to Iceland's welfare ministry on social media asking that residents be allowed to help.

Reykjavik had previously said they could take up to 50 Syrian refugees in 2016, but thanks to the outpouring of volunteers on social media, they agreed to accept more. If that number increases in 2017, Akkeri and many Icelanders will be ready to make them feel at home.

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