How I became a "criminal" in Iceland

Confession of an immigrant less than 24 hours before deportation.

Auglýsing

My name is Anton Gar­bar, I am 31 years old. Of all the countries in the world, two of my favorites are Russia and Iceland. Now in each of them they treat me like a crim­inal. In Russia - because I opposed the attack on Ukraine, in Iceland - because I have a Russian pas­sport.

I was born in the Kal­in­ingrad reg­ion. By Russian stand­ards, this is somet­hing like Iceland: a small "island" on the Baltic Sea, sand­wiched between Pol­and and Lit­hu­ania, far from the rest of "main­land" Russia. Until recent­ly, I lived an ordin­ary peaceful life, wor­ked in a bank. In 2016, I met a wond­erful girl, Vict­or­ia, who became my wife a year lat­er. We tra­veled a lot together, and we wanted to show the natural beauty to other people. To do this, we opened a small tra­vel agency. With groups of tourists we went to Europe, Jap­an, China and, of cour­se, to our beloved Iceland.

Doing business in Russia is difficult, sometimes it seems that the state does not want to see pri­vate entreprene­urs. Probably because business­men are often ambiti­ous and independent people. If somet­hing goes wrong in the state, then such people are not afraid to ask questions. This happ­ened to me as well. At some point, I began to not­ice more and more improvem­ent problems in my city. At fir­st, I tried to draw the attention of the aut­horities to these problems, even creat­ing petit­ions. But the aut­horities ign­ored all app­eals. From social media, I saw that this is the situ­ation throug­hout the country. Human rights are being violated, but no one seems to care. And now I found myself walking in a column of prot­esters.

Part­icipation in prot­ests in Russia is always “Russian rou­lette”. You go and chant "Freedom to Alexei Naval­ny!" and “Freedom for polit­ical pri­soner­s!”, and in respon­se, a police sergeant shouts at you through a megaphone that he will put you in jail for 15 days. In the yards along the route of the prot­est column, polcie vans with cages have alr­eady lur­ked, and the police brutally arrest and beat random people who come to hand. Independent newspapers and social networks vividly describe what happ­ens to those who are detained by the police at prot­ests. Prot­esters can be tort­ured with elect­ric shocks, bea­ten unconsci­ous, or raped. None of the police officers are pun­is­hed for this, and they know about it. Ther­efore, you are walking in a column of prot­esters, experiencing burn­ing irrita­tion from the inju­st­ice that is happ­en­ing around and the fear that you will not return home today.

But it doesn't end there. All prot­esters are fil­med by the police and street sur­veill­ance camer­as. Ther­efore, the pun­is­h­ment for express­ing your opinion can over­take you in a few days or even weeks. They will come to your house with a search, all bank cards will be blocked, and your phone and computer will be con­fiscated. And then, as luck would have it: as a max­imum they will sent you to a tort­ure pri­son, at least - the court will assign the official status of "for­eign agent", thus decl­ar­ing a per­son as enemy of the Russian state.

But the worst thing is that after the prot­ests, not­hing in the country changes. The majority of Russi­ans are alr­eady accustomed to liv­ing in pover­ty, hear­ing about tort­ures, and submitt­ing to inju­st­ice. At such moments, you und­er­stand that if you are arre­sted, then no one willprot­ect you.The repressive machine will chew your fate, as it did with milli­ons of your compat­riots before. The most you can hope for is that you will be mentioned in the list of undes­er­vedly con­victed sometime in 50 years.

Auglýsing

I lear­ned about the Russian attack on Ukraine when there was a little more than 6,500 kilomet­ers between me and Vict­or­ia. I was with a group of tourists at the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal, and my wife was at home in Kal­in­ingrad. The news came as a shock to us. At the same time, very quickly, European countries around the Kal­in­ingrad reg­ion began to close the sky for Russian air­lines. Ther­efore, there was a fear that my wife and I would not be able to see each other at all.

I immedi­ately openly spoke out aga­inst the war on social networks, to which, in respon­se, insults rained down on me from for­mer cli­ents, for­mer fri­ends, and even close relati­ves. Foll­owing the insults, threats began, it became dan­ger­ous to stay. We had only two options for what to do next. Either prot­est in Russia and be guar­an­teed to be arre­sted, or flee the country and try to influ­ence the situ­ation from outside.

We chose the second option. In a hurry, we left our home and went south to Kazakhstan to the wife's parents. Soon after that, officers of Russian Federal Security Service came to my mother in Kal­in­ingrad. They were look­ing for me because of my ant­i-war posts on social networks. Accor­ding to the law, Kazakhstan extra­dites to Russia those whom the police are look­ing for, and we have heard about such cases more than once. So my arrest was more a matter of tim­ing than probability. We had to run aga­in. This time to the west, to the only country where we had good fri­ends and acqu­ain­tances. To Iceland.

Viktoría and Anton.

An escape to the West is a sad tra­dition of the Russian and Soviet intelli­g­entsia, which was reprod­uced many times in the 20th cent­ury. European countries have always been happy to host educated Russi­ans, whose love of freedom is too dan­ger­ous from the point of view of their native country. Iceland seemed to us a magical country where human rights are certa­inly honor­ed, unlike Russia.

While in Kazakhstan, we could not apply for an Icelandic visa, but we had a valid Italian visa, which gave us the right to enter the Schengen area. We flew to Kefla­vik on April 5, 2022 and immedi­ately app­lied to the police for asyl­um. First we were settled in Ásbrú, and then we were trans­fer­red to the for­mer Saga Hotel in Reykja­vik. We app­lied for asylum at the Migration Service and got an assigned lawyer. We thought we were safe. It tur­ned out to be wrong.

Iceland appointed us a lawyer, Vil­borg Berg­mann. As we lear­ned out later, she is a speci­alist in family law, not immigration law. In addition, she repeatedly spoke publicly with alarmist statem­ents of a xen­oph­obic nat­ure. Neither I nor my wife Vict­oria knew this and calmly waited for the migration service to invite us for an intervi­ew. However, strange things began to happen. We met with the lawyer only on June 8 during the interview in ÚTL, hav­ing never discus­sed our case with her before. The migration service offici­als said that this con­versation would only be about the consider­ation of the app­lication in Iceland, and not the app­lication for asylum as such.

The very next day, Vil­borg Berg­mann told us that she thought there was an 80% chance that we would be deported. At this time, she still has not prepared the Power of Att­orney, promis­ing that she will do this in the com­ing days. We received this funda­mental document from her only a month lat­er. All the time we were in Iceland, we were look­ing for work. On June 10, we gave our lawyer a signed contract with the employer, which she promised to attach to our asylum app­lication. On Aug­ust 3, the Migration Service infor­med us through thelawyer that six days ear­lier had made a decision to refuse to consider our app­lication for asylum in Iceland. The document clai­med that the migration service considered the case on the merits, which in fact never happ­ened. The decision did not mention our evidence of polit­ical per­secution in Russia, our previ­ous trips with tourists to Iceland, the need for psycholog­ical help due to diagnosed depression, and a work contract in Iceland. We were to be deported to Ita­ly.

We were given 15 days to app­eal the decision to the App­eal Commission. In the weeks before, Vil­borg Berg­man had told us that she wouldn't mind if we wanted to change lawyers and even seemed to moti­vate us to do so. However, when we decided to do this, she sudd­enly ann­ounced her refu­sal. With difficul­ty, we still mana­ged to change lawyers. Now we were repres­ented by Guð­mundur Narfi Magn­ús­son, who filed an app­eal. In the meanti­me, we tried to find out about conditions for refu­gees in Ita­ly. We contacted local volun­teers and repres­enta­ti­ves of the state org­an­ization. We were told that they could not provide hous­ing, benefits or work. That is, from Iceland we are deported to the streets of Mil­an. Despite the quality work of Guð­mundur Narfi Magn­ús­son, on Oct­o­ber 7, the birt­hday of Russian Pres­ident Vla­dimir Put­in, we got refu­sal from the app­eal commission. There were no more legal procedures for cancel­ing deporta­tion.

We reached out to the Icelandic media trying to get the attention Mini­ster of Just­ice Jón Gunn­ars­son. I even mana­ged to see him in a car near Alþingi on Novem­ber 10, however, in response to my requests to accept documents about our case, he ordered the dri­ver to leave wit­hout open­ing the car window. Instead of a mini­ster, we got the attention of the Icelandic police. The day after the publication about us in the newspaper Stund­in, we were called to the police station for a con­versation. After a report about us on RÚV on Novem­ber 7, the officers came to the Saga Hotel and told us to report to the police station every day. On Novem­ber 14, we were able to per­sonally meet with the Prime Mini­ster of Iceland, Katrín Jak­obs­dótt­ir, and hand over our case documents to her. 15 minutes after our meet­ing, we received a call from the police and were infor­med that we would be deported on Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 16 at 5 am.

My wife Vict­oria and I still beli­eve that our case is a tragic mis­take in the Icelandic migration system that can be cor­rect­ed. All that is needed is a little miracle - a last-minute decision by the Mini­ster of Just­ice. However, this beli­ef, as well as the image of fair Iceland, is melt­ing away every minu­te.

Við þurfum á þínu framlagi að halda

Þú getur tekið beinan þátt í að halda úti öflugum fjölmiðli.

Við sem vinnum á ritstjórn Kjarnans viljum hvetja þig til að vera með okkur í liði og leggja okkar góða fjölmiðli til mánaðarlegt framlag svo við getum haldið áfram að vinna fyrir lesendur, fyrir fólkið í landinu.

Kjarninn varð níu ára í sumar. Þegar hann hóf að taka við frjálsum framlögum þá varð slagorðið „Frjáls fjölmiðill fyrir andvirði kaffibolla“ til og lesendur voru hvattir til að leggja fram í það minnsta upphæð eins kaffibolla á mánuði.

Mikið vatn hefur runnið til sjávar á þeim níu árum sem Kjarninn hefur lifað. Í huga okkar á Kjarnanum hefur þörfin fyrir fjölmiðla sem veita raunverulegt aðhald og taka hlutverk sitt alvarlega aukist til muna.

Við trúum því að Kjarninn skipti máli fyrir samfélagið.

Við trúum því að sjálfstæð og vönduð blaðamennska skipti máli.

Ef þú trúir því sama þá endilega hugsaðu hvort Kjarninn er ekki allavega nokkurra kaffibolla virði á mánuði.

Vertu með okkur í liði. Þitt framlag skiptir máli.

Ritstjórn Kjarnans: Sunna Ósk Logadóttir, Þórður Snær Júlíusson, Erla María Markúsdóttir, Arnar Þór Ingólfsson, Eyrún Magnúsdóttir og Grétar Þór Sigurðsson.


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