european students’ union

The Implementation of Student Refugees in Iceland

January 21, 2020

In 2019 two members of LÍS, Anastasía Jónsdóttir and Jóhanna Ásgeirsdóttir, took on the important assignment of arranging the program “Student Refugees in Iceland”. The program is modelled after the Danish version. The first step was launching the website: “studentrefugees.is”, where Icelandic refugees can seek information on how to access higher educational programmes. As in the Danish version, the Icelandic one aims to hold two café meetings a month where refugees can meet volunteers that assist them in their journey of seeking higher education. The attendance during first café in December 2019 showed the clear need for the program. 

In Iceland, there is a lack of information available to refugees on how to apply for higher education and where an individual can access the knowledge of his/hers standing in the Icelandic education system. Because social workers are understaffed and ill-informed regarding this category the need for easier access to assistance and information is great. Iceland is very strict when it comes to the qualifications of its citizens and those who are forced to flee their home countries often do not meet its limiting standards, even if they have finished higher educational programs in their home countries. 

Coupled with this is the fact that LÍN (the Icelandic student loan program) recently changed its rules and now allows refugees to qualify for student loans, instead of the previous arrangement where a refugee had to be a resident for five years before qualifying. The change might look good on paper, however, in the past refugees could get a grant from their respective municipality as they did not qualify for a loan. Now, instead, all the risk lies with the refugee and if they are unable to finish the educational program, they owe LÍN a great deal of money. 

When these two variables are combined, the need for The Student Refugee program is evident. Icelandic refugees do not have the same advantages as born Icelanders and should be treated accordingly. It is the wish of Anastasía and Jóhanna that one day the program will become completely independent of LÍS, so it will not be affected by the change of leadership in the student association. LÍS can then focus on putting pressure on the government and municipalities to change its stance on the educational opportunities for Icelandic refugees, while The Student Refugee program will focus on assisting those who wish for the opportunity of education.

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