Melting hearts with a warm Icelandic welcome

Published: 26 January 2016 16:55 CET

By Andreea Anca, IFRC


As they set foot in Iceland on a chilly winter afternoon, six Syrian families received a warm welcome to their new home. They were met by a large group of well-wishers including the country’s Prime Minister, Icelandic Red Cross staff and volunteers and others.


Welcoming the 13 adults and 22 children fleeing the bloodiest conflict in history on 19 January, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said: “We hope that you will soon find yourselves a part of this little community that we call Iceland.”


“It was incredible,” said Ibrahim Alkhatib, one of the migrants hoping to build a new life in the country. ”We were tired when we arrived but when we saw these hospitable people we forgot all about it. This was a great first meeting and it gave us power to keep going.”  



The volunteers to turn to

The six families are the first group of Syrians to arrive to Iceland at the urging of its kind-hearted citizens. In August 2015 Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, an Icelandic author and a professor at the Icelandic Arts Academy, created a Facebook account about the migration in Europe. The page was quickly followed by thousands of Icelanders who demanded that their government offer support to those fleeing violence.


In a matter of days, the Icelandic Red Cross registered a record number of volunteers. Around 1500 citizens signed up to help Syrian families settle in Iceland, even offering to host them in their homes. The overwhelming public support made a difference and the government, working in partnershop with the Icelandic Red Cross and UNHCR, agreed to welcome Syrian migrants from Lebanon.


Iceland, a nation of 320,000 citizens, now has 4,500 active Red Cross volunteers. Volunteers work alongside local officials to help Syrian families settle down and adjust to the new culture. Each migrant family can turn to one of their three designated Red Cross support families if they need any practical advice on living in Iceland.  The Red Cross also manages the publicly donated furniture and appliances for the families new homes.


“We are very proud of how welcoming Icelanders have been towards the migrants,” said Kristín S. Hjálmtýsdóttir, the Secretary General of the Icelandic Red Cross. “We have been positively surprised by the overwhelming support we have received and would like to thank all our volunteers.  Hopefully, this is only the beginning of the humanitarian assistance we Icelanders can give.”


In 2016 Iceland will welcome between 50-100 migrants with the next group set to arrive in a few weeks.