Iceland is a member of the Dublin cooperation, consisting of all 28 EU member states plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. The goal of the cooperation is to ensure that a single member state is responsible for processing each application for asylum, and thereby ensure the asylum seeker prompt access to case procedure for deciding whether he/she has the right to international protection.
In order to realize this goal, the Dublin Regulation, which has been adopted by all the member states, sets forth certain criteria for deciding which state is responsible for processing an application. According to the Regulation, a member state where an application is presented shall examine whether another member state is responsible for the application according to the provisions of the Regulation. The criterion used to assess which country is responsible includes the following factors:
- Whether the case is about an unaccompanied minors.
- Family reunification.
- Whether the applicant has received a residence permit or visa in another member state.
- Whether the applicant illegally crossed the external border or has stayed in another member state.
- Whether the applicant has applied for asylum in another member state.
If another member state is not responsible, according to the Regulation, Iceland is responsible for processing the application.
When an individual presents an application for asylum or is stopped during illegal crossing of the border, his/her fingerprints are registered in the Eurodac fingerprint database. Search is always made in the Eurodac database when an individual applies for asylum. If such a search reveals that the applicant has previously applied for asylum an examination is made regarding whether that particular member state is responsible for processing the application.
Case procedure on grounds of the Dublin Regulation is subject to certain timeframes according to the Regulation. Procedure by the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration may take as long as 11 months, however, commonly such procedure takes about 4-8 weeks.
An independent investigation takes place in every single case as to whether the receiving member state can honor its commitments for ensuring care and procedure for the applicant before a decision is made in his/her case. If the conclusion of the investigation is that the rights of the asylum seeker are not ensured in the receiving state the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration takes over the case procedure. It should be mentioned that due to the situation in Greece, asylum seekers for whom Greece is responsible, are not sent back there from Iceland.
An asylum seeker who receives a decision that he will be sent to another member state may appeal such a conclusion to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board and may request postponement of the legal effects.
It should be pointed out that when an application for asylum is concluded on grounds of the Dublin Regulation, no decision is made as to whether the applicant has the right to international protection, which is a decision that should be made by the state responsible for processing the application.
An application is taken for procedure if Iceland is responsible for processing an application according to the Dublin Regulation. During the procedure research is made as to whether an applicant has the right to asylum in Iceland as a refugee, as the concept is defined under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention (UNHCR) and by the Icelandic Act on Foreigners.
During the research by the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration, the focus is on the statement by the applicant, the data he/she submits and available information about the situation in his/her own country (country information). The concept country information refers to reports that are prepared by widely acknowledged authorities and other parties about the situation in an applicant’s own country, for example, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In its examination, the Directorate of Immigration is furthermore authorized to request the applicant to undergo an age-analysis and language and knowledge assessment in order to verify his/her age and his/her country of origin.
If the examination shows that the applicant does not have the right to asylum the Directorate of Immigration considers whether he/she has the right to what is called subsidiary protection or other international protection. These terms are defined in the Act on Foreigners.
If an applicant’s situation falls within the refugee concept or additional protection, he/she is given a refugee status in Iceland, which entails a four-year residence permit, which can be a basis for a permanent residence permit and to Icelandic citizenship if legal conditions are met. The applicant furthermore has the option of receiving an Icelandic refugee passport.
If an applicant’s situation does not fall under the refugee concept or additional protection, however, consideration is made as to whether he/she has the right to a residence permit on humanitarian grounds or on grounds of his/her special connection to Iceland. An applicant who has such a right is given a renewable residence permit for one year and an option to apply for travel documents for foreign nationals.
If an applicant’s situation does not fall under any of the aforementioned, the Directorate of Immigration must deny the application for asylum and residence permit, and therefore a decision has to be made at the same time whether the denial entails refusal of entry into Iceland by the applicant or his/her expulsion from Iceland. The decision may be appealed to the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board and the principal rule is that the legal effects of such decisions are postponed so that the applicant remains in Iceland while waiting for a conclusion of his/her appeal to the board, see here.
The Icelandic Directorate of Immigration is authorized to implement priority procedure of applications for asylum in accordance to regulations on the conditions for special procedure of applications in the following instances:
- When it is considered likely that an application for asylum will be accepted or when special circumstances recommend it, i.e. in the instance of a civil war in the applicants own country or if he/she is an unaccompanied minor or an individual who is in pressing need of protection or assistance.
- When an application is obviously without cause, i.e. when an applicant is a citizen of a country, or he/she may be sent to a country, where he/she obviously does not have to fear being persecuted or treatment that falls within the refugee concept. In such cases the Directorate of Immigration is authorized to take into consideration a list of countries that are generally considered as being safe countries of origin, i.e. countries where individuals are generally not at risk of being persecuted or subjected to serious human rights violations.
- When an applicant has provided insufficient or misleading information in support of his/her application, or the information he/she has provided does not give reason to assume that his/her situation falls under the refugee concept.
- When the application has been repeated after application for asylum has been denied or after an application has been withdrawn.
- When it may be considered clear that an application is made in order to delay the implementation of expulsion.
Priority procedure means that an application will be prioritized by the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration. The relevant person/applicant is called in for an interview and his/her case is examined before a decision is made. If the interview or the examination reveals that there is some doubt as to whether the applicant’s situation falls under the rules on rapid procedure, the case is taken for general procedure.
The procedural rules for asylum applications are based on the Icelandic Administrative Procedures Act and other unregistered rules of administrative law. Additionally, the Act on Foreigners has special rules in this regard. The rules that are mainly applied are the guideline rule, the investigation rule, the principle of equality and the rule on the right of objection. A legal spokesman is appointed or assistance from the Icelandic Red Cross for the asylum seeker to help him/her safeguard his/her rights, see here.
Duty to provide guideline
The duty to provide guidance is about the obligation to provide asylum seekers with information on how to apply for asylum, what the conditions are for asylum, and how the procedure will be, as well as answering all the questions asylum seekers may have regarding their application for asylum.
Duty to investigate
The duty to investigate entails a mutual obligation of the authorities and the asylum seeker to reveal all relevant facts and aspects of each case. The asylum seeker should do all in his/her power to provide information on his/her case, to tell the truth and be correct in his/her statements on important facts, and to disclose everything he/she believes is important, as well as presenting data that have or may influence the conclusion of the case. On grounds of its investigative duty, the Directorate of Immigration calls all asylum seekers in for interviews where asylum seekers are given opportunity to state their views and explain their situation.
Principle of equality
The principle of equality means that the Directorate of Immigration should resolve comparable cases on grounds of the same views and with the same focal points in order to reach a comparable conclusion and conformity in such conclusions. Authorizations of law and material views, however, may result in different conclusions in similar cases, as consideration must be shown for special circumstances in each case.
Right of objection
The right of objection entails that an asylum seeker has the right to safeguard his/her interests and rights by studying the data of his/her case, as well as the information that has materialized, and to speak his mind and present further information about the circumstances of the case before the Directorate of Immigration makes a decision in the case. Everyone applying for asylum in Iceland is called in for an interview at the offices of the Directorate of Immigration. The asylum seeker is there given time to tell his/her story, to consult with his/her legal spokesperson or the Red Cross representative, and to answer the questions of the representative of the Directorate of Immigration with the assistance of an interpreter.
Right to appeal
The decisions by the Directorate of Immigration regarding applications for asylum are made known to the asylum seekers with the assistance of an interpreter. The deadline for appealing a decision is 15 days. A decision entailing that an applicant should leave the country may not be implemented until the applicant has been given opportunity to appeal or until the conclusion of a higher authority is clear in a case where postponement of the legal effects has been requested.
A credibility assessment is an important factor when processing applications for asylum. Assessment means that information is gathered from the asylum seeker – either through his/her statement or submitted data – and this information is then examined in light of other existing information about the applicant and so-called credibility indicators in the applicant‘s statements. Taking this into account a decision is made as to whether it is possible to regard the applicant‘s statement as credible or not, and whether and to what extent it can be accepted as the basis for a decision regarding asylum or other protection.
When cases are examined with respect to credibility the statements by the applicant and the data he/she submits are highly important. The Directorate of Immigration also seeks information from the database of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in human rights reports by the U.S. Department of State, in reports by Amnesty International, Landinfo and other parties.
Due to the circumstances of asylum seekers strict demands are generally not made regarding their statements and their evidence, as well as asylum seekers generally being given the benefit of doubt if it exists. It is important to bear in mind, nevertheless, that according to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention it is the shared duty of the authorities and an asylum seeker to shed light on each case.
When conducting a credibility assessment, the Directorate of Immigration follows the guidelines by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as stated in the report, Beyond Proof. Credibility Assessment in the EU Asylum System, which was published in 2013. This report contains what is referred to as credibility indicators that are considered to indicate the credibility of a statement. These signs are:
- Accuracy and detail in statements.
- Conformity in the statement and between the statement and other information about the applicant and his/her own country.
- Applicant’s statement as such is not considered absurd or fantastic.
- Alternatively, it is deemed as permissible to consider attitude, behavior, the applicant’s situation and other factors, however, these factors alone cannot have a final effect in the credibility assessment.
Further information about credibility assessment and the credibility signs is contained in the aforementioned report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.