72 Palestinians Arrive in Iceland, Many Residence Permit Holders Still in Gaza

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

The 72 Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits who were brought out of Gaza last week have arrived at last in Iceland, RÚV reports. Many, however, have yet to escape.

A cheerful, tearful reunion

These 72 people–24 adults and 48 children–arrived in Iceland last Friday after a long journey from Gaza. Representatives from Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who had been in Cairo since early February, compiled a list of names of Icelandic residence permit holders in Gaza for the approval of Egyptian and Israeli officials. These people were then escorted from the border town of Rafah and into Egypt, from where they traveled to Iceland.

Employees from the Directorate of Labour, the Red Cross and the City of Reykjavík welcomed these new arrivals at Keflavík International Airport. From there, they traveled to Reykjavík where they were greeted by a throng of relatives and well-wishers, in reunions marked by tears of joy, laughter, and many hugs.

Many still in Gaza

About 50 of these arrivals will be staying in Red Cross housing, at least initially, with about two-thirds of them to live in the greater Reykjavík area, and the remaining third to live elsewhere in southwest Iceland.

However, this does not mark the end of the matter.

While the Foreign Ministry has announced that their work in Cairo has concluded, there are still some 32 Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits who are still in the region. Information from the Directorate of Immigration did not specify how many of these Palestinians are in Gaza, but it is estimated that most, if not all, of them are.

These 32 people were granted their residence permits after the Foreign Ministry compiled its list of names, i.e. February 10th. Despite this, the Ministry has said that it has met its obligations but would be monitoring the situation in Gaza.

Icelandic civilian volunteers have been very active in assisting other Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits with getting out of Gaza, and it is therefore likely they will also be assisting these addition Icelandic residence permit holders.

Iceland Condemns Russian Treatment of Alexei Navalny

Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Iceland’s Foreign Ministry called the director of the Russian embassy in Iceland to a meeting yesterday due to the death of Alexei Navalny. He was told that Iceland condemns Russian authorities’ treatment of Navalny. Russia’s ambassador to Iceland was asked to leave last year following the invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Minister blames Russian government

“It was made clear to the director that the Icelandic government condemns the Russian government’s treatment of Navalny, which led to his death last week,” reads a written response from the ministry to RÚV. Russian diplomats have been called to similar meetings in Iceland’s neighbouring countries. “The Icelandic government also condemns the Russian government’s attacks on human rights and people’s freedom, as a large number of people have been imprisoned in Russia recently following Navalny’s death,” the response continues.

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson tweeted about Navalny’s death last week, stating “Saddened to learn of the passing of Alexei Navalny and I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and supporters. Putin and the Russian government bear ultimate responsibility for his death.”

Cooling relations

Iceland shut down its embassy in Moscow in August 2023 and requested the Russian embassy in Iceland scale down its operations and send home its ambassador. The last time there was no Russian ambassador in Iceland was between 1948-1954. While Iceland’s Foreign Minister at the time stated that the closure did not entail a complete severing of diplomatic relations between the countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated it “destroys” the countries’ bilateral relations.