• Olafiafjolmenning

Hoping for more participation from residents of foreign origin

31. Aug 2020

Around 13% of Hafnarfjörður's residents are of foreign origin, the largest group thereof is Polish people, as is most frequently the case in Iceland. Following that are Lithuanians, Latvians, Romanians and Portuguese. In 2019 there were 114 immigrants in Hafnarfjörður, aged 67 and older and this is a group often overlooked in the discussion. Hafnarfjörður Township has in recent years made a focused and increased emphasis on immigrant and for the last 12 months, Ólafía Björk Ívarsdóttir has been the township's Project Manager of Interculturalism, which is a new 50% part-time position with the Department of Family and Children Affairs. Ahead we have the launching of the English version of the town's website, but the Facebook page “Living in Hafnarfjörður” was launched last spring. 

Hafnfirðingur, the town's local newspaper, interviewed Ólafía.

Ólafía says that the first months after taking over the position were quite eventful and were spent on assessing the issues. “I can see that these issues are important to people and I have received a warm welcome. Our wish is first and foremost that people of foreign origin have their space as participants here in the community, regarding events, supply of information, as town staff or other things. We have been increasing translations of information and put more emphasis on families with children, social services and general information.” Also, we have an acting Interculturalism Council with five representatives. A new council was appointed last spring and it convenes every month. Occupying the council are one town employee of foreign origin, one representative of women of foreign origin, one from the organization Móðurmál and two appointed by the Family Council. The Interculturalism Council is advisory to the operation of the Hafnarfjörður Township regarding these issues.


A Polish speaking employee at the town hall's service center

Ólafía says that naturally people of all ages consult with the town and that the group is quite diverse and with different needs. “Hafnarfjörður is a town of only 30,000 people and this is a great advantage which allows us to have quite good oversight. I operate across all departments and one of my job's main goals is to produce introductory and informational material for foreign residents, e.g. on Facebook and the website in cooperation with others and especially the Department of Service and Development. And we will keep developing that.” At the Department of Education and Public Health we have an Educational Consultant that acts as a Project Manager of Multiculturalism for the town's preschools and primary schools and in the schools many exciting things are happening. At the town hall's service centre at Strandgata, we have a Polish speaking employee and Ólafía says that this proven quite useful. “It makes all channels more efficient and everyone has been very content with these services, both staff and residents. Services in English are also available. As with other residents there are many issues that people are dealing with and we try to address them the best we can.” The support department for refugees and applicants for international protection in turn services applicants in line with a contract with the Directorate of Immigration and services refugees that have received been granted asylum.


Rich emphasis on interculturalism in museums and libraries

Furthermore, Ólafía says that there is a clear willingness to increase the participation of foreign children in sports and adding to the role of interculturalism in the town's various operations. For these purposes, the Hafnarfjörður Library is exemplary. “The library places great emphasis on interculturalism, e.g. with a project at the library called “Anna”, this is a platform for women and our vision was that they could meet, connect and develop the work further according to their wishes and interests. Artists of foreign origin have visited the library, formed connections and at least one of them will head an art workshop next winter. The get-togethers will continue next winter and all women are welcome to join. Two events are planned in September, one is a bingo event and the other is guidance through the exhibit “Villiblóm” in Hafnarborg. At the library there is diverse work taking place and targeted at Polish speaking residents and a good collection of material in the Polish language. Also, there is a Polish speaking employee. Furthermore, the library has recently purchased, carefully selected quality children's books in various languages, e.g. Polish, English, Spanish and Arabic. Modern libraries and museums have turned into community centres where everyone is welcome. Also, it is ideal to be able to support spontaneous gatherings connecting people. For example, on Sundays in March we had the musical course “Tónagull” in Polish in Hafnarborg, intended for young children and hopefully we will restart this in the fall. 

“Access to information promotes people's independence and feelings of security and we encourage everyone to be in touch. Also, we encourage the residents of Hafnarfjörður to be alert to neighbours of foreign origin and inquire if they are well informed and refer them to these sites”, Ólafía says in closing.