This week begins the Icelandic summer months, when professionals across the country take their well-deserved rest for summer vacations. In a centre like the Human Rights Centre, this leaves many important tasks tabled, since the bulk of the work is carried out by so few individuals. Given this gap, I have been tasked with increased responsibilities, particularly in the realm of the Centre’s legal counselling work.
For the first time since arriving, I am conducting hands-on work with immigrants seeking legal advice and applying for citizenship. The exchanges, over the phone and in counseling sessions, always has a tone of urgency and respect. All involved persons–myself, immigrating families, lawyers, and translators–lean on one another to navigate language barriers and work together. Moments from this week have included assisting with phone calls and expediting the services received by incoming families to talk with lawyers quicker, as well as facilitating rushed legal help to a Kurdish couple while a translator was still available to discuss their applications for citizenship. I have fielded calls, appointments, and listened to the many legal proceedings and am refreshed by a nation that upholds its commitment to the “inherent dignity” of humankind, as described by the foundational Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There are victories for human rights every day, but not ubiquitously across Europe. Recently, Germany has overturned policies protecting immigration, Italy has turned away boatloads of refugees at their borders, and Danish immigrant children are forced to spend 25 hours a week away from their households and parents, to name a few. It is a tumultuous and critical time to be learning the world of legal advising which grants people the opportunities for a better life, as is a cherished principle of human rights advocates around the globe.