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    'Open the Gates': Iceland Gives Syrian Refugees Warm Welcome

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    "They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children's band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman, a television host."

    Those are the words from Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir, who set up a Facebook event a year ago and wrote a letter to Iceland's welfare minister, Eyglo Haroardottir. She told the minister that she knew someone who could house five Syrians and requested work permits, residence papers in exchange for paying for their flight and helping them integrate into society.

    "People of whom we'll never be able to say in the future: 'Your life is worth less than my life,' " she wrote.

    More than 11,000 families have since offered to open their homes to Syrian refugees — dwarfing the government's cap of 50 asylum seekers a year and responding to Bjorgvinsdottir request for Iceland to "open the gates."

    Syrian refugee girl Housaida rests inside the Spanish rescue vessel Astral after being rescued by the Spanish NGO Proactiva off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea August 18, 2016.
    © REUTERS/ Giorgos Moutafis
    Syrian refugee girl Housaida rests inside the Spanish rescue vessel Astral after being rescued by the Spanish NGO Proactiva off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea August 18, 2016.

    ​Responding to the Facebook event online, one mother offered a room in her home for a Syrian child. "We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs," according to a translation by AFP.

    Iceland's open arms approach to Syrian refugees in in stark contrast with many other countries in and around Europe.

    Denmark, having followed Sweden's example an tightened up the countries rules on accepting and settling asylum seekers has seen a dramatic fall in the number of migrants reaching the Scandinavian countries. 

    Once highly regarded for their tolerant nature, Denmark and Sweden are showing how they can effectively stem the flow of migrants into their countries. 

    Germany, with its "open-door policy" and open border rhetoric, purported by Chancellor Angela Merkel, lead all of Europe to  taking in asylum seekers. More than 73,000 people claimed asylum in Germany between January and March in 2016 so far, which compares with just 7,300 in the UK.

    "Fortress Europe" is fast becoming a reality as France and Austria tighten their border with Italy. Switzerland has alsoresponded by increasing controls on their borders. The Western Balkan route remains closed and the deal between Turkey and Greece has exacerbated the number of journeys from North Africa to Italy and Sicily. More than 150,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year.

    ​In response to calls to "open the gates," Iceland's Prime Minister has formed a new committee to reassess the number of asylum seekers Iceland will accept.

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    Tags:
    Syrian crisis, open border, asylum seekers, migrants, Facebook, Angela Merkel, Sweden, Germany, Syria, United Kingdom, Denmark, Iceland
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