Address by Prime Minister Erna Solberg to the Storting on migration and the refugee situation around the Mediterranean and in Europe.
So far this year, more than 700 000 people have crossed Europe’s borders. Many of them are fleeing from war. Others are seeking a better life. We are facing a challenging situation.
In this address, I will describe what we are doing to respond to this situation at national level, international level, and in cooperation with the EU. I will start by describing the international picture. In order to understand the situation Norway is now facing, we need to understand the underlying reasons for the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe. This will be a key topic at the Valletta summit on migration next month, which I will be attending.
In the second part of this address, I will describe the EU’s measures, and Norway’s views on the work that is now being done at EU level. The third and final part of this address will look at what we are doing here in Norway to deal with the influx of asylum seekers.
Why is the world experiencing such massive migration challenges?
The international agenda is dominated by a series of unresolved conflicts and humanitarian crises: in Syria and Iraq, in the Horn of Africa and in Mali, to name a few examples. This year, the consequences of these conflicts have become more evident in Europe. We must remember that we are talking about people’s lives. About young Syrian families, for example, who are willing to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in small rubber dinghies to avoid the bombs raining down in Aleppo. For some of them, their journey will bring them to a transit centre in Norway, and they will seek refuge here.
One of the reasons for the current migration situation is that many people no longer see a future for themselves in their home or neighbouring countries. People fleeing from war need the international community to rise to the challenge and respond effectively. We will do our part.
In a world where more and more people are able to lead better lives, there are still many countries in the belt stretching from Afghanistan to West that are experiencing stagnation and in which governance is weak.
The refugee and migration crisis has its roots in misguided policies in a number of countries. In many cases, the international community has either failed to act or its efforts have miscarried. War and conflicts have broken out because ethnic, religious or other tensions have been cynically exploited rather than calmed. Crises have also developed as a result of oppression and poverty related to weak political institutions, a lack of freedom and respect for human rights, and the absence of economic opportunities for young people.
There is no short-term solution to these problems. They require long-term political, economic and social changes. These processes must start in the countries concerned, although they can benefit from support from outside.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 60 million people have fled their homes. And the flows of refugees and migrants are expected to continue to increase.
As I pointed out in my address in April, it is important to make a distinction between refugees and other migrants. The Syrian refugees, who account for most of the new arrivals in Europe, are often in need of protection. Many other migrants, for example those from the Balkans, come from safe countries, but are nevertheless leaving their homes in search of a better future. We must not be naive. Some people will exploit the situation, and will try to gain residence in Europe even though they are not in need of protection. This is another part of the picture.
The international community has a duty to provide protection under the UN Refugee Convention and the international human rights instruments. At the same time, it is important – not least for those in need of protection – to ensure the speedy return of those who are not in need of protection.
The armed conflict in Syria is now in its fifth year, and is showing no signs of abating. This cannot be allowed to continue.
It is essential to bring an end to the fighting and chart a course for a broad-based and rapid political solution. The main responsibility for ending the violence lies with President Assad. At the international level, the responsibility lies primarily with the UN Security Council, in cooperation with a number of regional actors, as well as the parties to the conflict. Norway is supporting the UN’s efforts.
Like our allies, Norway has expressed deep concern about Russia’s air strikes in Syria. It is vital that Russia clarifies the real aims of its air strikes, also to ensure that its air campaign does not inadvertently conflict with efforts of the global anti-ISIL coalition.
In the absence of a political solution, violence in Syria is escalating and the scale of the humanitarian crisis is continuing to grow.
Five years ago, Syria was a middle-income country on the brink of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. Today, large areas of the country are in ruins. Over half the population have been forced to flee their homes; 7.6 million are internally displaced and 4.1 million have crossed the border into neighbouring countries.
Despite this desperate situation, only 43 % of the funds called for in the UN’s humanitarian appeals for Syria and its neighbouring countries has been provided. This means that:
- The World Food Programme has stopped providing food to over 360 000 refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, because they lack financing.
- Over 700 000 refugee children in Syria’s neighbouring countries are out of school, and the schools that are accepting Syrian children are overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed.
The failure of the international community to ensure that basic needs, including education and healthcare, can be met in Syria’s neighbouring countries is one of the reasons for the large numbers of people fleeing from the region.
Nearly 60 % of the needs remain unmet. Therefore a concerted effort on the part of the international community is absolutely essential.
In order to mobilise the necessary resources, Norway is taking the initiative to organise an international donor conference for Syria, which will be held in early 2016. We are currently in dialogue with Germany, the UK, Kuwait and the UN on the details.
We have also increased our humanitarian assistance to Syria and its neighbouring countries. Norway is the sixth largest donor country to the region, and the second largest per capita donor.
In the Government’s budget proposal for 2016, we have earmarked NOK 1.5 billion for Syria and its neighbouring countries.
We have also proposed an increase in Norway’s overall humanitarian budget of over 30 %, to NOK 4.8 billion. This will be the highest humanitarian budget ever, and will make us better able to provide help in Syria and its neighbouring countries, and to respond to crises and humanitarian needs in other parts of the world as well.
In addition to Syria, there are a number of other countries that are being severely affected by protracted conflicts. Many of these are fragile states that are threatened by violent extremism. Several of the world’s poorest countries are among them.
As I mentioned in my address in April, parts of North Africa and the Sahel region are particularly unstable. Smuggling networks are operating in these areas and are earning huge amounts of money from the transport of people, drugs and weapons.
These networks thrive when countries are affected by protracted conflicts, as is the case in Mali and Libya. Organised criminals share an interest with terrorist groups in undermining Mali’s fragile peace process and exploiting the power vacuum in Libya.
So far, Libya has primarily been a transit country. If the conflict continues, the risk of Libya also becoming a country of origin for refugees and migrants will increase.
We are facing a formidable task when it comes to stabilising fragile states in the time ahead.
Today’s crises can only be addressed using a wide range of both immediate and long-term measures. Humanitarian assistance and development aid are vital in the short term. In the longer term, we need to put in place a stable international framework for trade and investment, and we need to support efforts to promote good governance, human rights and peace and reconciliation. These measures must go hand in hand.
UNHCR plays a key role in helping and protecting people who have been forced to flee their homes. Norway has increased its support to UNHCR this year, and we have strengthened our cooperation with the organisation in the area of education. Failure on the part of the international community to provide education to children who have fled their homes will leave these children with limited opportunities to create a good life for themselves once the war is over.
The Government is also targeting a larger proportion of its development assistance towards fragile and vulnerable states, and we are continuing Norway’s traditionally strong engagement in peace and reconciliation work.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss development issues with the chair of the African Union Commission and Lebanon’s Prime Minister at a high-level meeting in the UN. I have also had a meeting with Turkey’s Prime Minister about the situation there. It is important to involve Turkey in the international discussions on the migration crisis, and I welcome the recent cooperation between the EU and Turkey on these issues.
In November, representatives of European and African countries will come together for a summit on migration in the Maltese capital, Valletta. I will be among them.
The Valletta summit has an ambitious agenda. The aim is to establish long-term, binding cooperation to address the many challenges posed by the current influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from countries south of the Mediterranean.
The summit will examine the underlying causes of migration. The African countries want to see more opportunities for regular migration and mobility. They want more legal routes to Europe for their citizens. European countries, for their part, will demand a greater willingness to accept the return of migrants who are not in need of protection and have no right to stay in Europe.
However, African and European countries also have important interests in common, not least when it comes to combating criminal networks that profit from trafficking, strengthening protection and humanitarian aid for refugees in transit, and increasing border control capacity in key transit countries and countries of origin.
It is important that the Valletta summit results in better long-term development measures, as well as urgent action to combat illegal and irregular migration, save lives and alleviate suffering.
Given the number and protracted nature of the refugee crises in various parts of the world, Norway must be prepared to earmark more of its aid to measures to stabilise countries and prevent migration. We need to take a long-term approach, and we must integrate the issue of migration into our foreign policy to a greater degree.
The Valletta summit will be a unique opportunity to establish binding cooperation based on trust to address long-term challenges that we can only solve by working together.
The historically high number of asylum seekers who have come to Europe over the past six months are putting a strain on Europe’s ability to treat asylum seekers in a dignified and humane manner. The most recent estimates indicate that as of 1 September, 720 000 asylum seekers have registered in European countries. The complete figures for August and September are still uncertain. But we know that the distribution of refugees in Europe is very uneven:
- Around half of the asylum applications recorded this year, based on the figures that we have now, have been submitted in Germany and Hungary.
- According to official estimates, Germany is expected to receive a total of 800 000 asylum seekers in 2015, but these estimates could rise.
- Sweden received 24 000 asylum seekers in September alone, and the Swedish Migration Agency is now preparing for a scenario in which between 150 000 and 180 000 people apply for asylum in Sweden in 2015.
- Finland received 11 000 asylum seekers in September. This is in itself a high number, but it is worth noting here that the number of people seeking asylum in Finland has previously been very low.
- By comparison, Poland received 1 600 asylum seekers in September.
Many countries are now finding it difficult to deal with the influx of asylum seekers. Norway is taking a large share of refugees, but it is clear that certain countries are facing far greater challenges than we are, while other countries have hardly been affected at all.
The scale of the migration problem is so big that no country can deal with it alone. Over the past two weeks, I have discussed this with the German Chancellor and the prime ministers of the Nordic countries, among others. It is only natural for us to maintain close contact and exchange experience with like-minded countries. We agree that these challenges can only be addressed through a common European effort. Norway will play an active role in efforts to find effective European solutions, including through our participation in the Dublin system and our membership of Schengen.
In September, the European Commission presented a package of measures to address the refugee crisis. The most important measures currently being implemented and discussed by the EU and its member states are:
- The relocation of a further 120 000 refugees from Italy and Greece in addition to the 40 000 agreed on before the summer.
- The restoration of control over the Schengen external border and to assist with registration of asylum seekers in hotspot areas – i.e. improving reception capacity in Greece and Italy.
- A permanent relocation mechanism.
- A common European list of safe countries of origin.
- A more effective return policy.
- Greater focus on the foreign policy dimension of the refugee crisis, i.e. on diplomatic initiatives and on political solutions, and increasing support for refugees in the region.
The package of measures has been well received by the European Parliament and the majority of member states. All in all, this is an important start, and will help to ensure a better and more coordinated response to the refugee crisis in Europe. Norway recognises the need for a strong and coordinated effort at EU level.
The EU will take steps to strengthen control of people crossing its external borders and plans to relocate a total of 160 000 asylum seekers in order to ensure a fairer and more balanced distribution of asylum seekers. This will take place over a period of two years. The emergency relocation mechanism only applies to applicants of certain nationalities, i.e. where there is at least a 75% success rate in asylum applications. In Italy, work on implementing the relocation scheme is already underway, and last week the first group of 19 asylum seekers, all Eritrean nationals, was relocated to Sweden. The Government’s intention is for Norway to participate in the EU relocation scheme and we have communicated this to the EU. We will discuss the specific details of Norway’s participation in our proposed amendment to the 2016 budget.
The EU is also establishing “hotspots” in Greece and Italy. These will help register migrants and make the return process more efficient. Migrants will also receive health checks and relevant information. These measures are vital. Our participation in the EU relocation scheme will be based on a clear expectation that Europe succeeds in managing the current crisis, in which we have seen uncontrolled migration, external borders that are not properly protected and registration procedures that are inadequate.
In addition to the emergency scheme to relocate 160 000 asylum seekers, a proposal has been put forward to establish a permanent relocation mechanism for distributing refugees between European countries. This is still under discussion in the EU.
For the Government, it has been – and continues to be – important to ensure that people whose application for asylum has been rejected should be returned to their country of origin as quickly as possible. We therefore welcome the fact that the EU is now planning to strengthen its return system. An effective return system is essential for preventing irregular migration to Europe and for protecting the institution of asylum. Many European countries, including Norway, face challenges when it comes to returning people to countries of origin that fail to comply with their obligation to take back their citizens. The Government will seek to conclude return agreements with these countries in the time ahead.
Norway supports EU efforts to develop a strategy for safe reception capacity in third countries to which asylum seekers may be returned within the legal framework of the UN Refuge Convention and the international human rights instruments.
The EU’s initiative to draw up a common list of safe countries of origin is welcome. It should help to improve the return process and ease the migration pressure somewhat.
Norway has already introduced a 48-hour processing time for applications submitted by asylum seekers from a number of countries. This means that the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) will process asylum applications and make a decision within 48 hours of the application being registered. Countries considered to be safe countries of origin are covered by this 48-hour processing time. An assessment is made on an ongoing basis as to which nationalities should be covered by the 48-hour processing time, based on the current country information.
To sum up, a great deal of work still needs to be done to follow up the EU’s various initiatives. But given the influx of refugees we are now seeing it is important for Norway to ensure that control of the Schengen external borders is restored, that we protect the institution of asylum for those who need it, and that we succeed in developing effective common European solutions. Without joint mechanisms in place, we are likely to see individual countries trying to pass the problems around between themselves. This won’t benefit anyone.
Norway will also keep up the work it has been doing to save lives at sea. We will continue to provide support to Triton, the joint operation under the EU’s border management agency, Frontex, and will consider continuing our support for the Poseidon operation, together with the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (Redningsselskapet). These operations are aimed both at saving lives and at securing the external border. The Norwegian vessel Siem Pilot will continue its participation in Triton until the end of February, but this period may be extended until the end of May, the maximum period provided for under the contract with the shipping company, if this is requested by Frontex.
I would like to pay tribute to the Norwegian crew members who are participating in the Triton and Poseidon operations, as well as to the Norwegian shipowners and crews in the Mediterranean, who are still carrying out important rescue operations. I would also like to commend the many Norwegian aid workers for their invaluable efforts in the Mediterranean area and elsewhere in Europe.
In response to the flows of migrants from North Africa, a strong maritime presence and significant monitoring capacity have been established in the central Mediterranean, which must be maintained.
I welcome the adoption by the UN Security Council last Friday of a resolution authorising member states to inspect vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the vessels are being used for migrant smuggling or human trafficking. If it is confirmed that the vessels are being used for these purposes, the vessels may be seized. The resolution also calls on UN member states to assist Libya, when requested, in securing its borders and preventing migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
Norway is also supporting countries in Europe that are experiencing considerable migration pressure in a number of other ways:
- In Greece, we are providing a significant amount of funding through the EEA and Norway Grants to improve the administration of asylum cases and for other migration measures.
- We are setting up a new reception centre on the island of Lesbos, and we will fund the day-to-day running of the centre for a year. The Greek authorities are working to get the centre ready to open.
- We are participating in activities in countries such as Italy, Cyprus and Greece that will enable these countries to offer adequate services to migrants and asylum seekers.
- We have increased our support for Serbian and Macedonian refugee efforts.
- Through the Norwegian Refugee Council’s emergency standby roster NORCAP, we are supporting the deployment of humanitarian experts to UNHCR programmes in transit countries. So far, 24 experts have been deployed to help deal with the refugee situation in Greece and other countries in southern Europe.
Norway has also made it clear that it is willing to provide further funding through the EEA and Norway Grants to support migration and integration measures in several beneficiary countries in the years to come.
The huge increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe has also resulted in a significant rise in those seeking asylum in Norway. In the first six months of this year, the number of arrivals in Norway was lower than forecast. In August, however, more than 2 300 asylum seekers arrived in Norway – the highest number in a single month for several decades. In September, this figure more than doubled – to 4 900. There has been a particularly sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers from Syria and unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan.
We are also seeing an increase in the number of asylum seekers entering the country in the north at Storskog in eastern Finnmark. Nearly 1 100 asylum seekers have taken this route this year, around 850 of them in the last month alone. By comparison, approximately 20 asylum seekers took this route in the whole of 2014.
Many of the people seeking refuge in Norway will be granted asylum. Most of those who have sought asylum this year have declared themselves to be from Eritrea, Syria or Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Norway has been consistent in returning people whose applications have been rejected, with the result that fewer people are now arriving here from countries from which relatively few people are granted asylum.
I am impressed by the engagement we have seen here in Norway and the eagerness to help those who have come. Some people have volunteered as refugee guides, others are knitting warm socks, yet others are distributing food outside the registration centre in Oslo. All this shows that Norwegians are a warm-hearted people, and voluntary efforts will continue to be important. The main responsibility lies, as always, with the authorities.
I also commend the great efforts by the employees of the National Police Immigration Service, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and the other bodies involved in receiving asylum seekers over the last few weeks. They have made a huge effort, improvised and done all they can.
We will help. But given the current situation where needs are increasing so much and so quickly, we must be prepared for a few hitches as we scale up our services. We must face the fact that the increase in asylum seekers has created a number of challenges related to registration, accommodation and case processing. These challenges will not diminish in the time ahead.
It is important to ensure good procedures for the reception and registration of new arrivals. The premises of the National Police Immigration Service have not been designed to cope with large number of arrivals or for longer stays. It has therefore been necessary to change the registration procedure, and people who have not been fully registered are being sent further on in the system. This in itself is a considerable challenge. UDI has arranged for emergency accommodation all over Oslo so that asylum seekers who are waiting to register with the Police Immigration Service get a place to sleep.
Dealing with the large numbers of arrivals will not just entail increasing the physical reception infrastructure. It also requires having enough people with the right expertise and, in many cases, extended training. For example, around 160 Police Immigration Service employees are now working with registration. A total of 78 new positions have recently been created in order to improve the registration process. The Police Immigration Service and UDI have also established a reception centre in Kirkenes to deal with the arrivals in North Norway.
A great deal has been done in a short space of time. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to improve the registration and reception of new arrivals. This is important both for the asylum seekers concerned and for the immigration authorities.
It is against this backdrop that an arrival centre is now being established in Råde municipality. It will be in operation by the end of this week. This is a completely new type of centre, and will function as the first port of call for up to 1 000 asylum seekers. They will be provided with accommodation for a few days while the Police Immigration Service carries out the preliminary registration. There are also plans for a medical service to deal with acute health problems and carry out the necessary health checks.
The work related to registration is important. Both to safeguard the asylum seekers’ rights and to monitor who is coming into Norway. The Norwegian Police Security Service is following developments closely and may also need more resources.
One of the major challenges at present is the fact that many migrants are not being registered in the country of first entry, but are continuing their journey through Europe to their country of choice. As a result, some countries have introduced temporary border controls, as provided for under the Schengen rules. It is important for the Schengen cooperation that the external border is properly protected, and that asylum seekers are registered in the country of entry.
Norway has not introduced internal border controls, but the Directorate of Police has been requested to intensify its checks on people in areas close to the border in order to maintain a good overview of who is entering our country. This is important for national security.
According to the Police Security Service’s current threat assessment, the risk of asylum seekers having links to extremist Islamic groups is not a major concern in the short term. It is considered unlikely that the Norwegian asylum system is being used by groups such as ISIL and al-Qaida to enter Norway with the intent of carrying out violent acts.
The main risk to security posed by the influx of asylum seekers is considered to relate to the response of far-right groups in Norway. Opposition to immigration is a driving force for these groups. It is important to be prepared and to keep an eye on developments in this regard.
In the longer term, it is possible that some asylum seekers could become a security threat to Norway. Asylum seekers are a vulnerable group in terms of radicalisation, but here too there will obviously be significant variations.
Another factor that we must be aware of is the extent of human smuggling. The police are working to identify cases of human smuggling in the flows of refugees to Norway. Individual cases will be treated as serious crimes, and investigated accordingly.
The police officers on board the vessels Siem Pilot and Peter Henry von Koss in the Mediterranean are also seeking to uncover cases of human smuggling. Norway has clearly expressed its support for the EU’s efforts to fight human smuggling, and we are taking part in the international police cooperation in this area.
Capacity at the asylum reception centres is under severe strain. This is particularly the case in the transit centres in eastern Norway, where asylum seekers stay during the first phase of the process. In response to this challenge, a large number of new reception facilities, including temporary accommodation, are being established.
In some places, asylum reception centres are being set up at very short notice, both in places where there have previously been reception facilities and in municipalities that have not had such facilities before. This is a demanding task, both for the reception centres and the municipalities.
Many municipalities have shown great willingness and ability to contribute in this extraordinary situation. We greatly appreciate this. Close cooperation between the central and local authorities is crucial if we are to resolve the challenges in the reception system in a good way.
We have seen in other countries that it has been necessary to alter the standard of reception services in order to be able to respond to the situation. Last week, our neighbouring country Sweden decided to allow the establishment of campsites as a way of providing shelter to all the asylum seekers now arriving. We will also consider simpler solutions.
We are also seeing that other countries are using a larger proportion of their aid budget to assist refugees arriving in their countries. This is happening in Norway too. This is in line with the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s guidelines and has been established practice in Norway since the beginning of the 1990s.
The proportion of unaccompanied minors arriving has increased dramatically this year. They are mainly coming from Afghanistan and Eritrea, and many of them are younger than we have seen previously. According to UDI, more than half of them have reported that adults have organised their journey for them. It is cause for serious concern that minors are being sent alone with human smugglers to Norway. These children and young people need care, and that will be provided.
UDI has trebled the transit capacity for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, and a number of reception centres have been opened for young people aged between 15 and 18. Establishing reception centres for unaccompanied minors is demanding because of the special services required to meet the needs of this group.
There is also an increased need for places in special centres for unaccompanied minors under the age of 15. For this reason, the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs has entered into agreements with private suppliers on the establishment of more centres specifically for this group. It has also increased capacity at the existing reception centres. So far this year, around 460 children under the age of 15 have been come to special centres for unaccompanied minors. In comparison, the total figure for the whole of last year was 188.
Far too many unaccompanied minors – approximately 500 at the end of September – are now waiting to be transferred to a municipality where they can properly embark on their new life in Norway. This group is top priority for settlement in a local community.
If there’s one thing I wish for, it would be for the spirit of solidarity that we are seeing among the Norwegian population to result in more people volunteering to assist the child welfare authorities. If more unaccompanied minors are placed in foster homes and fewer in institutions, the chances of integration being successful will improve and we will be able to give the children a better and more secure start to their new lives. It is here that people can really make a difference.
The estimated number of asylum seekers expected to come to Norway in 2015 was adjusted upwards from 11 000 to 16 000 in connection with the preparation of the proposed amendment to the 2015 budget. UDI now estimates that 23 000 could arrive this year, and 33 000 in 2016. On the basis of these new forecasts, the Government will raise this issue again in the Storting in connection with the revision of the 2015 budget, and will shortly present a proposed amendment to the 2016 budget.
Dealing with the high number of asylum seekers entails high costs.
Today, the Storting will discuss the proposed amendment to the 2015 budget presented in response to the increase in the number of asylum seekers. I would like to state at this point that several figures will have to be adjusted upwards when the budget is revised later this autumn. We will also see a considerable upwards adjustment of the expenditure required when the proposed amendment to the 2016 budget is presented later this autumn.
On average, around NOK 1 million of public funds is needed to cover the first five years of a refugee’s stay in Norway. In the case of unaccompanied minors, the costs are several times higher. Unless cost reduction measures are introduced, the most recent forecasts indicate that in 2016 alone the additional costs will total several billion kroner. The forecasts for the number of arrivals are uncertain, but if between 40 000 and 50 000 people are granted residence, the costs over the next five years could be between NOK 40 billion and NOK 50 billion. If a large proportion of these refugees are unaccompanied minors, the figure will be considerably higher. In addition, there will be more long-term socio-economic costs, which will depend in particular on the level of labour market participation.
It is important to be pragmatic and solution-oriented in this process. We have to reduce the costs. Asylum seekers must be provided with good and adequate services, but these may have to be of a modest standard. We therefore need to review the arrangements we have today with a critical eye to see how we can provide satisfactory services at lower costs.
Norway must provide an adequate and dignified system for those who seek asylum. However, the arrangements should not be so good that unreasonable numbers choose Norway as their destination. The system and the benefits we offer should be comparable to that provided by other like-minded countries.
When I addressed the Storting in April on the refugee situation in Europe, the municipalities in Norway had agreed to settle 8 100 refugees.
The Government has given high priority to the issue of settlement in local communities. We have held meetings with mayors and senior municipal officials from around 100 municipalities to listen to their points of view and inform them of the improvements the Government has made to make the settlement and integration of refugees easier for the local authorities.
The Directorate of Integration and Diversity also provides close support to the local authorities. This has produced results. More than 11 400 refugees are decided settled in municipalities in 2015. This means that we can expect to see record high settlement this year, and I commend the local authorities for their cooperation in this respect. Nevertheless, there is still a backlog, and the number of refugees in asylum reception centres who are waiting to be settled is still expected to be around 4 500 at the end of the year. This figure will increase as UDI processes the large number of asylum applications that are being submitted. We will also be settling a large number of refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) global resettlement programme in the time ahead.
This summer, the Directorate of Integration and Diversity requested all municipalities, to settle a total of 14 000 refugees between them in 2016. The deadline for replying to this request is the end of November this year. The Directorate will send out a new request in October based on new forecasts. The Government urges the municipalities to continue to make an active contribution to the national effort to settle refugees in the time ahead.
Let me be quite clear about this: the process of settling the refugees in local communities will be very challenging. The new estimates indicate that we are facing a completely new situation. We will have to consider and discuss further measures.
Integration will be crucial in order to manage the situation in the time ahead. We must seek to ensure that those who are granted residence are able to get a job quickly. This means that they need to learn Norwegian and have their skills and qualifications assessed as quickly as possible. These are people who have had to leave behind all that is dear to them, and many have to bear the loss of loved ones and have suffered other ordeals. It is therefore particularly important that we enable them to support themselves and their dependents, and thus retain their self-respect. The introduction programme and Norwegian language training will be important in this respect.
We have presented concrete proposals for next year’s budget that will enable us to step up our efforts. For example, we have proposed an allocation of NOK 20 million for various measures to enable recent arrivals to use their skills to find jobs quickly. We have proposed an extra allocation of NOK 50 million to support municipalities that agree to take in larger numbers in 2016. We have also proposed an increase in funding for the Norwegian State Housing Bank. In addition, the new prognoses tell us that we will have to face a completely new set of challenges, and we will return to this in a proposed amendment to the budget.
The involvement of the voluntary sector is essential if we are to ensure the successful integration of refugees into local communities. Voluntary organisations are playing a significant role, for example by providing Norwegian language training and various cultural activities, creating meeting places, and fostering dialogue between religious communities. Voluntary activities give people an opportunity to contribute, and at the same time help solve many important social challenges.
The widespread and generous response of the Norwegian people that we have been seeing gives grounds for optimism. I believe that refugees will be given the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their new local communities, but there will also be challenges. The Directorate of Integration and Diversity must be prepared to assist municipalities in developing good systems for receiving large numbers of new inhabitants who are unfamiliar with local conditions.
What I have described here is a situation that will challenge the entire asylum system. It will affect the immigration authorities, the municipalities, the police, the health service, the child welfare service, and Norwegian society as a whole. Application processing times may become longer, asylum reception centres may have to take in more people, and there is likely to be a substantial increase in the number of refugees needing to be settled in local communities. Much remains uncertain, but we must be prepared for the refugee crisis to continue for some time. We must take the necessary action to ensure that Norway is able to deal with the potential consequences of this – now and in the future.
The increase in the number of asylum seekers will have a major impact on many areas of society. Just discussing these issues will be a challenge for us politicians. Taking in so many people will inevitably entail difficulties, and we will have to make choices and set priorities. We have some clear starting points, and I have discussed these here today. The refugee crisis cannot be resolved by Norway alone; we must promote European and international cooperation. Borders must be properly protected, and there must be proper control of the flows of asylum seekers. We must safeguard the institution of asylum by pursuing a clear, predictable policy on protection and return. We must ensure that refugees are well integrated into our society. At the same time, the economic reality means that we must be realistic about what we can offer.
While we bear all this in mind, we must also remember that the refugees now coming to Norway have aspirations, hopes and dreams of a better future. Many have had a difficult journey, and many have lived under extremely difficult conditions for years, surrounded by uncertainties and hostilities. It is always important to see the individuals behind the numbers. Even though it will be difficult, I know that Norway is capable of meeting these challenges.
I am confident that the parties represented in the Storting are prepared to take part in these efforts, and that we can achieve broad agreement on many of the measures. If there is one thing Norwegians are good at it is taking part in a collective effort – a dugnad. This autumn we will need a political dugnad. But a sustained national effort will also be needed for several years to come.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the Storting on these issues today.