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Cablegate: Iceland: Palestinian Refugee Admissions Reveal Discord,

VZCZCXRO1130
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRK #0093 1431656
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221656Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3658
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000093

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PGOV PHUM UNHCR KPAL SY IZ IC
SUBJECT: ICELAND: PALESTINIAN REFUGEE ADMISSIONS REVEAL DISCORD,
AMBIVALENCE

1. (U) Summary: Iceland's recently-announced plan to accept 30
Palestinian refugees has sparked new debate on societal tolerance of
immigrants and again revealed deep divisions in the Liberal Party.
Meanwhile, the town of Akranes, just outside Reykjavik, is poised to
accept the refugees despite a loosely-organized petition drive
opposing the plan. End Summary.

2. (U) On May 6, the Icelandic Government approved a proposal by
the Icelandic Refugee Council to offer asylum to up to 30
Palestinian refugees in Iceland. The refugees would fulfill
Iceland's UNHCR referral quota of 25-30 refugees a year. The group
is made up of single mothers and their children currently staying in
the Al Waleed refugee camps close to Iraq's border with Syria. As
part of its proposal, the Refugee Council asked the government of
the western Iceland town of Akranes if the town would be interested
in receiving the refugees. On May 19, the town council decided
unanimously to start talks with the Ministry of Social Affairs on
receiving the refugees.

3. (U) The Refugee Council's proposal immediately sparked debate
within the Akranes branch of the Liberal Party (LP), which is part
of the governing majority on the town council. Magnus Thor
Hafsteinsson, the national LP Deputy Chairman and the party's first
alternate town councilor in Akranes, opposed the reception of the
refugees on several grounds. He said that the inhabitants had not
been previously informed of the possible arrival of the refugees,
and he also stated that the town was already short of funds to
tackle an increase in the town's own social problems. In response,
on May 14 the LP's sitting town councilor, Karen Jonsdottir, left
the party, citing her disagreement with Hafsteinsson's remarks.
Jonsdottir switched ranks to the Independence Party (IP), giving the
IP a single-party majority on the council.

4. (U) The refugee issue has sparked a debate in Akranes and
divided the town into two opposing camps. The opponents have even
started a signature petition in the town against receiving the
refugees, though the town council has been dismissive of what
appears to be a poorly-organized effort. This is the first time
that refugee admissions have generated such a strong reaction in
Iceland, despite the fact that the majority of the 227 refugees
settled in Iceland since 1996 have also gone to smaller towns rather
than Reykjavik and suburbs.

5. (SBU) Comment: The signature petition and Hafsteinsson's
comments are characteristic of growing xenophobic tensions in
Icelandic society. Iceland's extremely low unemployment and need
for foreign labor means this friction cannot be ascribed to
frustrated Icelanders' losing jobs to foreign immigrant labor.
Rather, this appears to be a function of a homogenic society --
dating from the original Viking Age settlement -- coming into more
frequent contact with other cultures, people of different skin
color, and new residents who speak languages not understood by
native Icelanders. This is also the first time Iceland has agreed
to accept refugees from the Middle East, an element which may be
causing further discomfort.

6. (SBU) Comment, cont'd: Additionally, Hafsteinsson seems to be
making another run at trying out a nationalistic plank for the
Liberal Party platform. His previous attempt just prior to the 2007
parliamentary elections gave the LP a short-term boost in polls but
failed to bring long-term success as all other parties publicly
announced they would not join a government coalition with the LP.
In the end, the LP took just five percent of the vote nationwide.
However, if Iceland's recent economic troubles worsen and
unemployment becomes a significant problem, Hafsteinsson may find
more fertile ground for his efforts.

VAN VOORST

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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