Falklands population stagnant, aging, census finds

Associated Press Modified: September 13, 2012 at 9:01 am •  Published: September 13, 2012

STANLEY, Falkland Islands (AP) — A census in the Falkland Islands has produced some results that fundamentally challenge what many outsiders think about the people who live in the remote, wind-swept archipelago that Britain and Argentina fought over 30 years ago.

For one thing, most residents of this self-governing British Overseas Territory don't consider themselves British. Fifty-nine percent say their national identity is "Falkland Islander," compared to 29 percent who feel "British."

That has implications for Argentina, which refuses to deal directly with the Falkland Islands' local government, and accuses Britain of running what Argentines call the Islas Malvinas as an illegal colony.

The survey also puts the average annual income at $32,213, much higher than Argentina's $9,620 as of last year, or that of the Falklands' other Latin American neighbors.

The income figure underlines how much things have changed since before the 1982 war.

Back then, wool prices had bottomed out internationally and invading Argentine soldiers were told they would be welcomed by impoverished and oppressed tenant farmers. Instead, they encountered a stubbornly defiant population that helped British troops retake the islands.

Sheltered by continued military support, Falklanders have seen their livelihoods greatly improve since the war, with revenue flowing in from fisheries, tourism and offshore oil development.

But the census also reveals an existential challenge: The islands' population hasn't grown since the last survey was done in 2006. There are only 2,563 residents after civilian contractors and British military personnel and their dependents are excluded.

The population is aging rapidly, too, with the ranks of people older than 65 increasing by 14 percent in the last six years.

"If the Falklands is to progress we need to increase our population," said Les Harris, a 73-year-old retired power station manager who was born in Chile.

The census shows unemployment at just 1 percent, with one-fifth of all workers having multiple jobs. The largest employer by far is the government, at 28 percent, followed by agriculture (11 percent) and hospitality and tourism (11 percent).

Offshore oil and gas development could bring sudden wealth to the islands if several drilling efforts strike it rich. But the effort currently employs just 26 islanders, and there simply aren't enough people around to work the jobs created by a growing economy.

The numbers show "there is still work to be done on immigration policy," Dick Sawle, a legislative assembly member, said Thursday. "It is vital that we get this right and exercise adequate control whilst at the same time attracting to the Islands people who will help us maintain an active and vibrant community."

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