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Cablegate: Iceland's Refugee Policy Under Scrutiny, Govt Makes New

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

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