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9/1/15

Iceland: 'Refugees Are Our Best Friends': In Iceland, Communities Campaign To House Syrians, Ease Europe's Migrant Crisis - by Erin Banco

Vala Magnusdottir sits in the small apartment she shares with her boyfriend, keeping close watch on her year-old son as he plays with his toys. She scrolls through her newsfeed on Facebook, looking for updates on an event she is attending.

The number of people joining this particular virtual event has grown by 3,000 overnight. All 13,000 attendees are committed to helping Syrian refugees find homes, clothes, shelter, food and work. This outpouring of support is all the more extraordinary because it comes from Iceland -- a sparsely populated, isolated island at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

"Icelanders grow up staying away from strangers. It is just the culture," Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir, an Icelandic author and professor, told International Business Times. The movement to help refugees, and allow more into the country, is unprecedented.

Bjorgvinsdottir was inspired to create the Facebook group “Syria Calling” after one of her friends wrote a Facebook post outlining his desire to help Syrian refugees. Bjorgvinsdottir put out a call on Facebook Sunday asking for Icelanders to speak out if they wanted the government to do more to help those fleeing

Syria's bloody civil war. More than 12,000 people have offered to take Syrians into their homes, and signed a petition to put pressure on the government after it said only 50 migrants would be accepted this year.

"There was an explosion overnight with this group. Thousands of people wanted to be a part of it," Bjorgvinsdottir said.

Magnusdottir is one of them. The young mother from Keflavik, a small town on the southwestern tip of Iceland, said she doesn't have much, but that won't deter her from sharing what she has.

“It breaks my heart to see what's happening and I know I can help, and I will in any way possible,” Magnusdottir said in an interview with IBTimes. “We don't have a lot of money but we have food on our table and water, we have clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads, and we have each other. Some of these people are watching their children and parents die or suffer. I've started to save money as much as we can afford so I can maybe help someone.”

The campaign is part of a concerted effort to see refugees as people -- as individuals with skills to offer their host countries. In an open letter to Iceland's minister of welfare, Bjorgvinsdottir wrote, "Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022."

Note EU-Digest: This act by Iceland is worthy of many kudos - contrary to the lackluster reaction by many EU states,  who can't, or don't want to get their act together to assist in this human tragedy. Most of us in Europe call ourselves Christians but we seem to have forgotten a basic biblical principle found in 1. John 3:17-18 - "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."  

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