Archive for the ‘UNHCR’ Category

Where do former UNRWA CGs go?

Posted: January 11, 2016 by Rex Brynen in UNHCR, UNRWA

If you’ve ever wondered where former UNRWA Commisioner-Generals go,  here’s your answer. Today UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon swore in Filippo Grandi as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Karen Abu Zayd as Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.


Karen served as UNRWA CG from 2005 to 2010, and Filippo from 2010 to 2014.

Donating to UNHCR and UNRWA

Posted: September 3, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNHCR, UNRWA

Amid the onging human devastation of the Syrian civil war and a growing regional and international refugee crisis, this is probably as good a time as ever to remind readers how they can help.

Click the images below to donate to UNHCR or UNRWA..

UNHCR appeal

UNRWA donate

The Evils of UNRWA?

Posted: April 4, 2015 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNHCR, UNRWA

Well, David Bedein is at it again with his latest bizarre video, Children’s Army of Hamas. This time, however, he scores something of an own-goal, and accidentally provides a rather powerful argument for supporting UNRWA.

The most of the video shows a troubling phenomenon–the military training and indoctrination of Gazan children by Hamas.

However, Bedein then goes on to try to link these activities to UNRWA by interspersing clips from the training camps (which take place under Hamas auspices in Hamas-controlled facilities) with clips of Hamas officials saying positive things about UNRWA (which have nothing to do with military training camps whatsoever). Hamas statements, of course, will come as no surprise to either Israel or to donors—everyone is aware that the Agency needs a practical working relationship with Hamas to provide humanitarian services in Gaza, much as it needs a practical working relationship with the IDF to function in areas of the West Bank, or with the Syrian government and Syrian rebels to operate in Syria. Indeed, it is pretty much humanitarian assistance 101, and fully consistent with why the international community funds the Agency. Hamas also has to be careful about criticizing UNRWA, since the Agency enjoys a higher degree of social trust than does Hamas itself.

What is striking in all this is that Bedein’s video also implicitly highlights that while Hamas attempts to recruit children as combatants, UNRWA does not permit such activities at all—which is why he has to film non-UNRWA events and then try to smear the Agency with ludicrous guilt-through-association. Paramilitary activities and support for violence are prohibited by UNRWA in both its educational curriculum and in its facilities. UNRWA summer camps, which focus on issues of fun and human rights, have been regarded as a direct challenge to Hamas in this regard, since they attract children who might otherwise attend Hamas-linked activities. In short, were funding for UNRWA educational and youth activities to be ended and Hamas to take over all education, some 225,000 pupils would be subject to potential paramilitary indoctrination in Gaza schools. Given this, it is no wonder Israel has been asking donors to increase their support for UNRWA activities in Gaza.

In contrast to Bedein’s latest bizarre antics, some more serious criticisms of UNRWA are levelled by contributors to a special issue of Justice 55 (Winter 2014/15), the magazine of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. These vary widely in quality. The magazine reproduces a couple of pieces by Bassem Eid that are simply so factually wrong that they further shred whatever residual credibility he might have once had.  Shabtai Shavit’s “A Tale of Two “Refugee” Organizations: UNRWA vs. UNHCR” is far more rhetoric than analysis. Articles by Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky reflect their well-known positions, but are at least sustained by some knowledge of the topic (even if I would disagree with most of their conclusions). James Lindsay, once again, emerges as one of the most thoughtful critics of the Agency.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of the lot is by Steven Rosen, who highlights the extent to which the government of Israel—despite its periodic complaints about aspects of UNRWA—continues to strongly support the Agency’s activities:

Deeply flawed as the agency is, Israel depends on UNRWA as an element promoting stability in the West Bank and Gaza, a vital strategic objective for the Jewish State.

The epicenter of Israel’s cooperation with UNRWA is Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the IDF, and specifically the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which has the day-to-day task of coordinating civil and security affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. COGAT attempts to maintain a good working relationship with UNRWA, mainly to help the agency perform its task of providing vital services to the Palestinian Arabs, services that the IDF might have to provide if UNRWA were suddenly removed

The Congressional Research Service reports that “Israeli officials … assert that UNRWA plays a valuable role by providing stability and serving as the eyes and ears of the international community in Gaza. They generally characterize UNRWA’s continued presence as preferable to the uncertain alternative that might emerge if UNRWA were removed from the picture.”

Israel’s dependence on UNRWA makes it leery of anti-UNRWA activity by its friends in Western countries. In January 2010, the president of Canada’s Treasury Board announced that the Harper government would redirect its Palestinian aid away from UNRWA and toward specific projects of the Palestinian Authority, much to the satisfaction of pro-Israel organizations in the country.[12] But six months later, in August 2010, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reported that, “In discussions with … Israel …, Canada has been asked to resume funding the [UNRWA] General Fund.” A critic of the pro-Israel groups sneered, “The lobby is working in a vacuum with very poor information, pushing for actions that the Israeli government feels is not in its interest.”

On a final note, it is striking that none of the pieces in the magazine make any attempt whatsoever to assess Israel’s responsibilities in the refugee issue. After all, it was not UNRWA that forcibly displaced most of the non-Jews resident from within what became Israel in 1948, nor was it UNRWA that seized their properties and prevented them from returning (with lethal force, if necessary) on ethno-religious grounds. While most of the articles suggest that refugees be absorbed or resettled, there is almost no attention to the way 90% of all refugee situations are resolved in the modern era, namely through repatriation. Here again, it has not been UNRWA that has prevented return of refugees to Israel, nor their repatriation to the West Bank or Gaza—including hundreds of thousands of 1967 displaced persons whose repatriation has been agreed three times (in the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty) but never implemented. Israel has also indicated that it will not permit the current repatriation of Palestinians in Iraq and Syria who face severe threats of violence and deprivation.

For their part, neither Syria nor Lebanon have been willing to extend citizenship to Palestinian refugees resident there, while Jordan has been particularly anxious to keep additional Palestinians out of the country. (The PA/PLO hasn’t been enthusiastic about this either, a stance that I strongly disagree with. Hamas has welcomed refugees, but few can get to Gaza, or wish to do so.)

In short, the lack of durable solutions for these populations really can’t be laid at the Agency’s door, whatever its shortcomings.

UNHCR, UNRWA, Palestinian statehood, and refugee status

Posted: December 30, 2014 by Rex Brynen in UNHCR, UNRWA


Some of my recent comments regarding refugee status appear to have caused confusion among ideologues, so I thought it might be time for an end-of-year post to clear things up. Specifically, what would happen if UNHCR status rules were applied to Palestinian refugees?

1) It should be noted, for a start, that UNRWA only determines refugee status for service eligibility, not for the purposes of rights or protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. To some extent, therefore, it is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Palestinian refugees under the care of UNRWA are excluded from the Convention under Article 1 D. However, that same Article notes that such persons would be eligible for Convention protections if their situation is not otherwise “definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.” In other words, the international community insisted on a multiple layers of protection for Palestinian refugees from the outset: UNRWA, the 1951 Convention in UNRWA’s absence, and a requirement that their situation be resolved in accordance with relevant UNGAR resolutions, meaning UNGAR 194 (1948).

2) It has been alleged that I claimed that “UNHCR and UNRWA definitions for refugees were virtually identical,” which is a (deliberate?) misreading of my position and the nuances of the international refugee regime. As I have argued many times before, it is my view that Palestinian citizens of Jordan—who are clearly able to avail themselves of the protection of a state—would not normally be eligible for UNHCR refugee status. (The Jordanians could, however, argue that the wording of the Convention rendered them eligible nonetheless under the terms of cessation clause of paragraph 2 of Article 1D.)

3) Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon are generally stateless, and would certainly be considered for multi-generational derivative refugee status in accordance with existing practice under UNHCR rules. Indeed, non-UNRWA, subsequent generation, stateless Palestinian refugees (i.e, those without citizenship and outside UNRWA’s area of operations) are quite regularly treated as Convention refugees by both UNHCR and Western countries. A case in point is Iraq, where UNHCR treated Palestinians there as refugees under the 1951 Convention:

Palestinian refugees in Iraq, being outside UNRWA’s area of operations fall within UNHCR’s competence by virtue of paragraph 2 of Art.1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

It should be noted that UNHCR also insisted that third country resettlement of such refugees should only be considered as an “exceptional humanitarian response and an option of last resort.” They urged that Palestinian refugees be permitted by Israel to repatriate to the West Bank and Gaza (Israel refused, while the PA was unenthusiastic). UNHCR also aserted that “resettlement should be seen as a temporary solution for Palestinians, without jeopardizing their right to return.”

4) Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are, de jure, citizens of the State of Palestine. Given this, do they therefore lose their refugee status or representation (or, more accurately, would they lose the former under UNHCR/Convention rules)? This concern was raised by some Palestinian refugee advocates at the time that Palestine applied to the UN for recognition as a state, and has also been raised by others as invalidating Palestinian refugee claims and status. However, despite UN recognition, in no way can Palestine be considered a de facto functioning state, able to provide protection for its citizens.

Therefore, no country—not even Israel—has seriously claimed that recognition of Palestine invalidates the refugee status of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, UNGAR 67/19 (2012) on the “Status of Palestine in the United Nations” explicitly invokes prior UN resolutions  (including UNGAR 194). The Israeli government in particular has no interest in pursuing this, since this would result in a termination of UNRWA services in these areas, severely destabilizing the PA while enabling Hamas to assume full control over the Gaza education system—something it has been anxious to avoid. Indeed, Israeli officials continue to urge donor countries to increase, not reduce, their financial support for the Agency in these areas.

Finally, it should be noted that debates over UNHCR vs UNRWA refugee eligibility are largely an irrelevant red herring. The refugee issue does not derive from UNRWA service eligibility rules, and Palestinian concern with return, repatriation, and refugee rights would not end even if the Agency were to disappear in a puff of blue smoke tomorrow. Moreover, if somehow—perhaps due to intervention by a herd of magical, fluffy flying unicorns, since there is no other imaginable way it would occur otherwise—UNRWA were dissolved, UNHCR would almost certainly treat most Palestinian refugees as refugees. Furthermore, the General Assembly would, with absolutely certainty, direct it to do so. Indeed, some years ago some Palestinian refugee activists favoured a shift of the Palestinian case from UNRWA to UNHCR for precisely that reason, feeling the latter had a much stronger protection mandate, was far more activist, and would more explicitly press for the refugees’ “right of return.”

And with that, best wishes to everyone from PRRN for a happy, peaceful, and rights-based New Year!


The Jerusalem Post published an editorial yesterday critical of UNRWA for artificially keeping the Palestinian refugee issue alive by inflating the number of “real” refugees:

This becomes evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA subscribe. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition, the refugee’s descendants are not refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could any itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the condition extends to “descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.” One refugee parent suffices to inherit the distinction – even when the inheritor is not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardstick, more than 97 percent of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort. In 1948, there were some 600,000 self-styled Palestine refugees. UNRWA now boasts that it cares for 5,000,000 people.

One again, the editorial repeats the canard that UNHCR would not consider the descendants of (stateless) Palestinian refugees as refugees. This is simply not true: for UNHCR, refugee status ends when refugees are able to avail themselves of the protection of another state, usually through acquiring citizenship. Refugees who are unable to do so maintain their status, and their children are considered to have “derivative status.”

All of this is made amply clear in UNHCR’s  Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination under UNHCR’s Mandate, Section 5.1.1 of which notes:

  • Family members/dependants of a recognized refugee may apply for derivative refugee status in accordance with their right to family unity.
  • Family members/dependants who are determined to fall within the criteria for refugee status in their own right should be granted refugee status rather than derivative refugee status.
  • Individuals who obtain derivative refugee status enjoy the same rights and entitlements as other recognized refugees, and should retain this status notwithstanding the subsequent dissolution of the family through separation, divorce, death, or the fact that a child reaches the age of majority.

UNHCRmandatePalestinians who have acquired citizenship elsewhere (as is the case with most in Jordan) would not be considered UNHCR refugees, but those in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, as well as stateless refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, certainly would.

Having got its fundamental facts wrong, the Jerusalem Post goes one further with its bizarre comment that “Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.” One assumes they mean refugees, not homeless, but the point is that Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are American citizens. The 2 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees because there is no Palestinian state—in other words, because of Israeli policy. Syria and Lebanon choose not to naturalize the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians resident there—which has nothing to do with UNRWA or its rules. Many of the former, of course, face new displacements as a consequence of civil war.

On a minor technical note, UNRWA’s refugee rules relate to service eligibility, which is somewhat different than UNHCR status determination. Also, UNHCR rules DO apply to Palestinians outside UNRWA’s fields of operation, but that error by the Jerusalem Post is rather secondary to its overall lack of comprehension of the refugee issue. Indeed, it is striking the extent to which this sort of misunderstanding continues, even though UNHCR procedures are easily accessible online. It is an perverse echo chamber effect of sorts, where loud and misinformed ideological positions drive out thoughtful and informed analysis if repeated often enough. Neither Israel nor Palestinian refugees nor the search for peace are well-served by any of this.

Finally, it is important to recognize that salience of the refugee issue in Palestinian political discourse has little relationship to UN rules, but is fundamentally rooted in the shared collective experience of dispossession and forced displacement. Jews maintained a yearning to “return” to their homeland for millennia in the diaspora, without an UNRWA or UNHCR. Why is it surprising that Palestinians do too, a mere 66 years after they too were driven into exile?


As of July 8, UNRWA estimated that 235,000 Palestinians in Syria had been internally displaced. Others have fled to Lebanon (63,100), Jordan (7937) or further afield. The Agency currently provides direct assistance to 420,000 refugees, in addition trying to maintain its regular health and education services.

An op ed in today’s Jerusalem Post by Leviah Landau criticizes UNRWA for focusing on the emergency humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees who are in, or who have fled from, Syria.

Any kind of planning for long-term solutions for refugees outside of the territories has not been and is not within the purview of UNRWA. The organization’s six-month budget is dedicated to cash assistance, food and non-food items, emergency health, education, rehabilitation and capacity and management support. Concrete aid items such as bedding, kitchenware, garbage services and emergency medicine constitute a large chunk of where the money goes.

While all of this is necessary, comparatively, UNRWA’s budget requirement for Syria in the past six months was $75,087,733, a whopping 90.44 percent of the required budget requested by the UNHCR’s Syria budget – charged with all other Syrian refugees (approximately 1,250,000).

UNRWA issues a few reports each week that address the current situation on the ground in Syria. However, the organization fails to address the actual concerns of the population it serves.

Meanwhile, UNRWA receives hundreds of millions of dollars for emergency relief and short-term aid, which only continues the cycle of Palestinian suffering. The UNHCR, by contrast, addresses permanent resettlement of refugees in distress. Why an opportunity for relocation has not been emphasized for Palestinian refugees is a serious question. [emphasis added]

The article goes on to cite the third-party resettlement of Palestinians fleeing Iraq as a model for what UNRWA should be doing.


A few observations are in order.

First, it isn’t accurate to say there has been no effort to find a destination for Palestinian refugees from Syria. According to press reports, the Palestinian Authority requested that Israel permit the refugees to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza. After all, they are Palestinian refugees, so repatriating them to Palestine would be the logical thing to do, right?

Israel, however, refused—unless, that is,  refugees agreed to waive their future rights and claims. Israel outright refused to accept Palestinian refugees from Iraq after 2003, despite a similar request. It has also reneged previous commitments to allow the “admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 to return to these areas,” a commitment it made both in the 1978 Camp David Accords and in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

It should be underscored that in none of these cases was it proposed that the refugees return to Israel proper. Rather, it was proposed that they repatriate to areas that are supposed to become part of a future Palestinian state.

Since Israel has foreclosed the most logical and legally sound option—namely the return of refugees to their own country, as called for in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—what about the sort of mass third country resettlement called for by Landau?

It isn’t something that even UNHCR  does much of these days. As UNHCR’s website notes, “of the 10.5 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, only about 1 per cent are submitted by the agency for resettlement.” Even fewer are actually resettled.

It is costly, further breaks up the social fabric of displaced societies, and—most critical of all—relies on the diminishing will of the international community to resettle refugees. As UNHCR explains, the current number of requests is limited by the ability of receiving countries to process these requests, as well as their willingness to accept refugees. There’s simply no room in the system for large numbers of additional claimants. Resettlement can also be seen as facilitating ethnic cleansing, by implicitly accepting the decision of a party responsible for forced displacement to exclude people based on their ethnic origins or religious beliefs. After all, while Israel won’t allow Palestinians to repatriate to the Palestinian territories, it will allow Jews (from anywhere in the world) to live there, in settlements in the occupied territories that themselves are clearly illegal under international law.

Thus, even if there were support for it by the refugees (there isn’t), large-scale third country resettlement is impractical for almost half a million Palestinians who were registered with UNRWA in Syria. No country will take them. Indeed, the extended delay and cost involved in finding asylum for a relatively small number of Palestinians fleeing Iraq after 2003 provides overwhelming evidence why this isn’t a feasible option for a very much larger number of Palestinians fleeing Syria now.

Certainly, I believe that persons fleeing Syria, whether Syrian or Palestinian, ought to be able to apply for third country resettlement. I favour countries expanding their acceptance of refugees, in this case and others. However, to blame UNRWA for not pursuing a completely unfeasible policy—and at the same time, completely ignore Israel’s continuing refusal to allow Palestinians to repatriate to the Palestinian territories—isn’t just poor analysis. It is deliberate obfuscation.

Israel, refugees, and UNRWA: The Ayalon video

Posted: December 10, 2011 by Rex Brynen in UNHCR, UNRWA

Last week Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon launched the latest in a series of YouTube videos by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outlining his government’s view of various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most recent installment is noteworthy both because of its content—the video examines “The Truth About the Refugees”—and because of the context in which it was released.

The video itself is lively, engaging, and well produced. It makes four major points about the refugee issue:

  1. Palestinian refugees fled Israel first because they were “encouraged by Arab leaders who promised they would return as victors”, and  also later because of the failure of their “collective attempt to destroy the newly-reestablished state of Israel.”
  2. There were “far more” Jewish refugees than Arab refugees, whose existence in the Middle East long predates the “Arab occupation” of the region. Unlike the Palestinian refugees, Jewish refugees were fully integrated and absorbed within Israel.
  3. The resettlement of Palestinian refugees was blocked by discriminatory measures by Arab countries, who (with the exception of Jordan) denied them access to employment and citizenship. The refugee issue was thus perpetuated by Arab countries to use it as a weapon against Israel.
  4. Ayalon then draws a distinction between UNHCR and its resettlement activities, versus the role of UNRWA in “perpetuating” the refugee issue through multi-generational refugee status. UNRWA spends more on Palestinians refugees and employs more staff than other refugees receive through UNHCR.

There is little point responding point-for-point to what is, after all, a (well-made) propaganda video. Indeed, in many ways, the video is best appreciated as a statement of views that, however odd they might appear to scholars of the refugee issue, are nonetheless deeply-held among many Israelis. While the forced displacement of approximately 80% of all Palestinians from Israel in 1947-49 had clear elements of ethnic cleansing (deliberate depopulation of key areas, seizure or destruction of refugee properties, the prohibition of their return on ethnic and religious grounds), this is simply not the way that Ayalon, or other members of the current Israeli government would see it. Indeed, the incompatibility of the Israeli and Palestinian narratives is part of the reason why resolving the refugee issue is so difficult.

As noted before at the PRRN blog, the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has often been used rather cynically by Israel in an attempt to offset Palestinian refugee claims. It is, nonetheless a real issue, rooted in widespread violations by Arab regimes of the rights of their Jewish citizens. Advocates of the Palestinian refugee interest would do well to address it in a more serious way.

Finally, there is the central and familiar theme to Ayalon’s video that the refugee issue is an artificial creation of Arab regimes and the UN. It could be noted, of course, that the majority of UNRWA-registered refugees either already have citizenship (in Jordan), or are denied it not by Arab states but by Israel (through its occupation of Palestinian territories and its refusal thus far to allow Palestinian self-determination in an independent state). While it seems fairly obvious that a population whose national identity was forged through ethnic cleansing would have the experience of al-Nakba indelibly fixed in their political consciousness, it would be a mistake to wholly dismiss Ayalon’s views as cynical obfuscation. On this issue too he is reflecting a perspective that is widely held on the Israeli side.

One of the most interesting things about this video is the very deliberate, official attack upon UNRWA that it contains. The video itself was launched at an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the UN refugee convention, with the Deputy Foreign Minister condemning UNRWA’s role in the refugee issue as “morally and politically unacceptable.”

Of course, in drawing a distinction between UNHCR and UNRWA the video makes a number of factual errors, failing to note (for example) that UNRWA predates UNHCR, that UNHCR also recognizes multigenerational refugees, and that UNHCR recognizes that refugees have a “right of return” and that such return is the most desirable “durable solution” to most refugee situations. According to the most recent (2009) UNHCR Statistical Yearbook, UNHCR repatriated some 24.7 million refugees to their homelands between 1989 and 2009. By contrast:

Comparatively, resettlement benefits a small number of refugees; in 2009, only one per cent of the world’s refugees directly benefited from resettlement. During the past 10 years, some 810,000 refugees were resettled, compared to 9.6 million refugees who repatriated. For every refugee resettled since 2000, 12 repatriated.

While Israel officials have never been known for showering praise on UNRWA, they have long recognized its value in providing assistance to refugee populations, seeing in such services a bulwark against potential refugee radicalism. In Gaza, for example, UNRWA has emerged as something of a rival to Hamas both as service provider, and because of its promotion of peace, human rights, and greater gender equality. Indeed, it has only been because of the social safety need provided by the Agency that Israel has been able to apply economic pressures against Gaza, knowing that UNRWA food programmes will prevent humanitarian conditions there from becoming critical. Consequently, when Canada ended its contributions to UNRWA’s core budget in 2009, Israeli officials quietly protested the move. Why then Ayalon’s current attack?

There are, I think, two possible explanations. One is that Ayalon—a Knesset member from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, famous for once deliberately humiliating the Turkish ambassador with an uncomfortably low chair for the benefit of Israeli television cameras (and then having to apologize)—has once again made a political faux pas. The other possible explanation, however,  is that Israel may be shifting its policy towards the Agency, due to either the right-wing views of the current Israeli government or in retaliation for the Palestinians recent bid for UN recognition.

Only time will tell which of these it is.

meanwhile, back at Wikileaks…

Posted: January 24, 2011 by prrnassistant in Iceland, Iraq, Syria, UNHCR, US

Wikileaks has recently posted two more US diplomatic cables related to the Palestinian refugee issue.

The first concerns Iceland’s decision in 2008 to accept a small number of Palestinian refugees who had been living in the al-Waleed and al-Tanf refugee camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border. According to the May 2008 cable from US Embassy in Reykjavik, the move generated divisons that were “characteristic of growing xenophobic tensions in Icelandic society”:

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….

A total of 29 refugees later arrived in Iceland—you’ll find a video report on it here.

In another cable, the US Mission in Geneva reports in May 2009 on a recent meeting of the “Working Group on Resettlement” dealing, in part, with Palestinian refugees fleeing Iraq:

There was discussion of progress in responding to UNHCR’s October “Flash Appeal” to meet the resettlement needs of vulnerable Palestinians from Iraq currently residing in difficult circumstances in Al Waleed, Al Tanf and Al Hol camps. UNHCR’s efforts to refer these Palestinians have thus far resulted in referrals for about half of the original 2,300 to various resettlement countries but another 1,150 places are needed. For countries requiring in-person interviews, the pace of off-take will depend on the establishment of workable logistical arrangements.

…nothing especially new or noteworthy there. According to UNHCR, the al-Tanf camp was eventually closed in February 2010 after the 1,000 or so refugees there had been resettled elsewhere (including Iceland), and another 300 relocated to the al-Hol camp. In January 2011, UNHCR announced that it hopes to complete all resettlement of Palestinian refugees from the camp soon.