Viewing cable 07REYKJAVIK117, ICELAND'S REFUGEE POLICY UNDER SCRUTINY, GOVT MAKES NEW
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|07REYKJAVIK117||2007-04-18 17:05||2011-01-13 05:05||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO9590 PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIHL RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHRK #0117 1081715 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 181715Z APR 07 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3261 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000117 SIPDIS SIPDIS SENSITIVE DEPT FOR PRM, NEA/I, EUR/NB ALSO FOR EUR/PPD, ECA GENEVA FOR RMA E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREF PGOV PHUM PREL UNHCR IZ IC SUBJECT: ICELAND'S REFUGEE POLICY UNDER SCRUTINY, GOVT MAKES NEW PLEDGE FOR IRAQI REFUGEE AID Ref: Reykjavik 102 ¶1. (U) Summary: A series of newspaper articles about Iraqi refugees, written by a well-known Icelandic journalist, in Iceland's newspaper-of-record, has seized public attention and ignited new discussion on Iceland's conservative refugee admissions policy. Iceland has not admitted any Iraqi refugees since the beginning of the Iraq war. The generally pro-government newspaper followed the articles with an editorial strongly criticizing the GOI and encouraging it to shoulder responsibility for supporting the war and accept Iraqi refugees to Iceland. The GOI has announced a $100,000 pledge to UNHCR for Iraqi refugee aid, though the MFA was careful to point out to Post that the pledge was in the works well before Morgunbladid's articles came out. End Summary. ¶2. (U) Iceland's newspaper-of-record, Morgunbladid, highlighted the Iraqi refugee problem and Iceland's contributions to reconstruction efforts in Iraq in articles written by award-winning journalist David Logi Sigurdsson from April 15-17. Sigurdsson, a good contact of Embassy Reykjavik and an alumnus of the Dept's International Visitor Leadership Program, traveled to Amman, Jordan and interviewed Iraqi refugees, both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, most of whom live there illegally and under dire conditions. The first article was an introduction to the situation, and offered personal stories of the refugees and the conditions in which they live. The article included a table listing Iceland's contributions to the reconstruction efforts in Iraq (a total contribution of roughly $5.6 million from 2003-2006). The most provocative item was Sigurdsson's reporting that Iceland has turned down 10 Iraqi asylum seekers in the past four years. In contrast, he recounted that Sweden had welcomed several thousand Iraqi refugees in 2006, while the U.S. accepted 202 individuals. Sigurdsson went on to report the USG's pledge to accept 7,000 Iraqis this year. The articles caught the attention of Morgunbladid readers, and on April 17 Morgunbladid included an interview with an Icelandic woman who wanted to invite an Iraqi refugee to come live with her and her family in Iceland. ¶3. (U) By Sigurdsson's account, the Refugee Council of Iceland has debated the possibility of offering asylum to a group of Iraqis, but UNHCR suggested that the next group of refugees admitted to Iceland be Colombians because there are several Colombians in Iceland already and this will facilitate the integration of the refugees. When asked in a follow-up article, Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir said that Iceland has usually followed the UNHCR's advice and that the UNHCR was happy with how Icelanders have handled these matters. ¶4. (SBU) On April 16, Sigurdsson discussed the UNHCR conference on Iraqi refugees, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland on April 17 and 18, and reported that the GOI would pledge $100,000 toward UNHCR operations for Iraqi refugees. This news was confirmed in a press release from the MFA on April 17. An MFA official whose purview includes refugee affairs reported to PolOff that the ministry was "not happy" with the way it was portrayed by Morgunbladid, and sought to clarify that the most recent pledge was in the works well before the articles were published. She also noted that decisions on individual asylum seekers are the responsibility of the Directorate of Immigration, while UNHCR-referred refugees are the concern of the Refugee Council of Iceland (which includes the MFA and the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as the Icelandic Red Cross), and was not pleased that the articles blurred this division of labor. ¶5. (U) In an editorial on April 17, Morgunbladid criticized the USG for not having accepted more Iraqi refugees. However, notwithstanding the paper's generally pro-government line, it reserved harsher criticism for the GOI for not receiving any Iraqi refugees, and thus not having shouldered the responsibility for supporting the invasion of Iraq. The editorial urged other countries in the Coalition of the Willing to accept refugees from Iraq, especially the lead nations. ¶6. (SBU) Comment: As reported reftel, the Government of Iceland's refugee admissions policy can be described as conservative at best -- over the last decade, Iceland has admitted roughly 25 refugees every other year, primarily from Colombia and the Balkans, while only one individual has received political asylum here since 1984. While concerns about integration into Iceland's small, unique society deserve appropriate attention, a reexamination of the fact that Iceland's doors are largely closed to refugees and asylum seekers is overdue. Post will seek to use this newfound attention to refugee affairs to gently press the issue with our GOI interlocutors. End Comment. CAMPBELL