Drivers, dynamics and challenges of increased migration across the Mediterranean

Oslo, 20 August 2015

State Secretary Ingvild Næss Stub's speech at the seminar "A Humanitarian Crisis on the Doorstep of Europe" arranged by Prio (the Peace Research Institute Oslo) 20 August 2015.

Deputy Director,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to speak about an issue that is as heart-breaking as it is urgent. The dramatic humanitarian crisis we see on the doorstep of Europe demands immediate action. This is a timely seminar, and it shows that Prio can react rapidly to issues that are of prime political concern.

We face, as you all know, an extremely complex crisis. It involves a wide range of issues: border control and immigration, European asylum policies and obligations, human rights and humanitarian and development policies, fragile states and conflict prevention, the law of the sea and search and rescue regimes, security policy and the fight against criminal networks and human trafficking, just to mention a few.

And we approach these issues from different perspectives. Nobody has yet come up with a comprehensive solution.

Short-term responses may undermine durable solutions, but long-term policies will not save the people that are in risk of drowning today. The only thing we know for certain is that no action is not an option.

The influx of migrants across the Mediterranean and the tragic loss of lives is affecting us all. Under the Schengen Agreement, Europe's external borders extend from Italy in the south to Norway in the north. Europe's southern borders are therefore also our borders. The crisis in the Mediterranean is at the top of the EU agenda, just as it is at the top of Norway's agenda.

The various European countries are affected differently. Challenges differ between the countries where migrants disembark and the countries of final destination. The EU countries have, despite their differences, put forward a broad and ambitious programme for tackling the crisis. The European Commission has presented an Agenda for Migration. It contains wide-ranging and controversial proposals, and will be the subject of intense discussion in the weeks ahead.

The crisis is affecting us all, and the response must therefore be a shared responsibility between European countries.

The Norwegian Government wishes to contribute to alleviating the crisis. (PM's letter to President Juncker and Tusk). We are also carefully considering how we can complement EU efforts and support other stakeholders (such as UNHCR, IOM and regional organisations).

Some urgent initiatives

While we strive for more a comprehensive response, Norway has set priorities and identified some urgent policy initiatives:

  1. First of all, we must act to save lives. This is our number one priority. This is being done today by various ships patrolling the Mediterranean – under Operation Triton, Operation Poseidon, by commercial ships, and ships with a search and rescue mandate, including those run by private and humanitarian organisations. The ship provided by the Norwegian Government will be a substantial contribution to Triton and will certainly save lives.
  2. Also, we need to understand the complexity of the crisis better. That is one of the reasons why I am here today.
  3. We must make sure that the search and rescue regime is respected and upheld. States have an obligation to allow migrants to disembark at the nearest safe harbour.
  4. We must see to it that people are taken care of once they arrive on the shores of Europe.
  5. We must establish a system for immediate registration, enabling the European border authorities to identify migrants and initiate the process for determining refugee status for those who are seeking asylum.
  6. We must aim for a system where Schengen countries can assist the European coastal states in registering migrants and processing asylum claims, and resettle those in need of protection.
  7. We must ensure that people who are not in need of protection are able to return with dignity to their country of origin. The response to irregular migration from Western Africa to the Canary Islands has shown that a strict and efficient system of return can be very effective. That route has now lost its popularity and is hardly in use today. The Euro-African Dialogue on Migration and Development – known as the Rabat process – was another result of this effort.
  8. We must address the root causes of migration, although I admit this is a tall order. We know that many of the migrants are fleeing from conflict, but preventing and resolving conflicts is no easy task, and certainly not one that Norway can address alone. We also know that many people are fleeing from poverty, and we should continue to fight poverty through our development cooperation. But, with the current growth in population in many African countries and poor prospects for job creation, this will take time.
    A further problem is the fact that it is not the poorest who flee; it is rather those with some resources and good networks, for example to the diaspora in countries of destination
  9. We must do more to fight the criminal networks.
  10. Finally, we must explore the options for people in need of protection. Resettlement is one option, and I am proud to say that no other government has done more than this one to offer people a sustainable future in Norway. Most of the people resettled now are Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon, and they are among the most vulnerable in this group.

I would like to emphasise, however, that resettlement can only be offered to a small proportion of the total number of refugees. More people flee Syria every day than the number Norway could receive in a year

Norway has taken responsibility, both as a European country and as a development partner and humanitarian actor. But much still remains to be done both in terms of response and in terms of coordination.

As I mentioned in my introduction, it is vital to increase our understanding. Seminars like this are important. With so many prominent experts present, I am sure that we will all leave this seminar more knowledgeable than we were when we came.

I wish you an interesting and fruitful seminar!