Political upheaval and unrest in Syria has spawned a global refugee crisis and Iceland is doing its part to help. With no end to Syria’s political turmoil in sight, Iceland has recruited aid workers from around the world, who specialize in refugee response, to help them prepare for an increase in new residents. Enter Dr. Nicole Dubus, a professor at San Jose State University in California with over 20 years of experience in social work. Nicole, who has counseled refugees in community and mental health centers in the States, was enlisted as a specialist through the U.S. Fulbright program to advise Icelandic authorities on taking in and welcoming Syrian refugees.
This winter, she spent several memorable and meaningful weeks collaborating with Icelanders, assisting them as they bridge the gaps between two distant cultures.
A Pleasant Surprise
For Nicole, the opportunity to go to Iceland came as a bit of a sudden surprise.
“Years ago I had signed up on the Fulbright Specialist list stating my expertise in refugees,” she explains. “I long forgot that I was on the list. I then received a request in November if I could go to Iceland in two weeks to assist with the refugee resettlement process. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.”
Though brief, her stay in Iceland proved tremendously eye-opening and rewarding, giving her a chance to learn more about Iceland’s geography and its important position in world affairs.
“I found Iceland to be amazing,” she reports. “It was an honor to be part of the efforts to welcome the Syrian families. I was struck by dramatic contrasts of Iceland’s landscape: tectonic plates, volcanoes, geysers.”
Nicole was also pleased by the warm welcome she received from Icelanders: “I was struck by the kindness of the residents. I found Iceland to be a country proud of its history, shaped by its place on the globe, and on the cusp of its importance changing on the global stage. As the Arctic Circle becomes more accessible, Iceland’s geo-political position is definitely shifting.”
The Inside Scoop
Working with Iceland’s immigration authorities also gave Nicole a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of Icelandic society. She believes that Iceland’s small size makes the country’s agencies more adaptable, efficient, and responsive to the influx of asylum seekers:
“While we have done remarkable work in assisting refugees [in the U.S.], we have also often worked in silos, each agency working to address the needs in front of them. This has created a situation where agencies might not be aware of the work other agencies are doing.”
Icelandic agencies’ unique collaborative capabilities and adaptability, she believes, gives Iceland the potential to be a world leader in refugee issues.
“In Iceland you have the unique opportunity to thoughtfully prepare and develop a network of communication among the service providers,” she explains. “Iceland can be on the forefront of developing best practice for working with refugees.”
A Lifelong Fan
Nicole’s positive experience collaborating and conferring with her Icelandic colleagues has transformed her into a lifelong fan of the country and everything it has to offer guests and tourists. She was even pleasantly surprised by the mildness of the weather, in comparison to her home state of Massachusetts.
“I have lived in the Boston area for most of my life, and didn’t realize that my winters were worse than in Iceland! I have been a loud spokesperson for the wonders of Iceland. I fell in love with the culture, landscape, history of this country [during my stay].”