Meld. St. 12 (2010–2011)

Assistance to Norwegians abroad

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7 Assistance in a crisis

Travelling and living abroad will always entail some risk of serious accidents, terrorist attacks, natural disasters or other crises. There are, however, many things that can be done to avoid such situations and minimise the damage if they do arise. Firstly it is important to consider carefully whether it is safe to travel to the destination in question and whether it is absolutely necessary to do so. The Norwegian authorities may provide information that can help people make a well-considered decision, but it is the traveller himself who must make that decision.

Once the decision has been made and preparations have started, there are a number of steps that can be taken to enhance safety and security besides registering with the Norwegian authorities,1 such as obtaining further information on the general security situation in the area and notifying family members of the destination and dates and contact information. It may also be useful to refresh general first aid skills and take along certain useful items when travelling.2 The Ministry of Justice and Public Security has published a handbook on how to prepare for a trip and how to enhance personal safety and security and deal with serious incidents while abroad.3

7.1 Assistance from the Norwegian authorities

Thorough preparations will help to ensure a successful trip, and will be valuable in the event of an accident or crisis. It is recommended that everyone planning to travel to countries outside Europe and North America should register their travel details in advance.

If a crisis should occur, Norwegians abroad should be aware that it is the authorities of the country they are staying in that are responsible for taking immediate action such as fire fighting and rescue operations and searching for survivors, and for maintaining law and order and implementing measures to prevent pandemics.4

Boks 7.1 The Foreign Ministry’s crisis management system

The Foreign Ministry has established a crisis preparedness and management system to support local crisis management operations led by the diplomatic or consular mission in the area in question.

The Ministry’s strategic leadership group, headed by the Secretary General, is responsible for the strategic aspects of crisis management. An emergency response team, consisting of four groups on a roster, is established as needed to take care of operational tasks. One of the groups on the roster must be able at any given time to get to the Ministry within one hour if a crisis occurs. The emergency response team also includes liaison officers from the Armed Forces, the health service and the police. The team is prepared to send out a special emergency response unit made up of personnel from the police and the health service, in addition to Foreign Ministry employees, at five hours’ notice to assist the Norwegian diplomatic or consular mission with the management of a local crisis. The emergency response team also includes a number of people with particular responsibility for dealing with family members and with the media. All members of the Foreign Ministry’s crisis management system are given thorough training and take part in regular exercises.

In addition to providing information and advice and helping to establish contact between those affected by a crisis and their family members, the emergency response team assists in the voluntary evacuation of Norwegian citizens from crisis areas.

Some crises are of such a magnitude that the country concerned requests international assistance. Any such assistance will always be a supplement to the national relief effort. Moreover, such government-to-government assistance must be provided in accordance with general criteria established by the authorities of the recipient country. A more detailed discussion of such assistance, which may take different forms and involve non-state actors as well, falls outside the scope of this white paper.

The measures taken by the Government in crises abroad in which Norwegian citizens are involved will depend on the scale of the crisis and the particular needs of those affected. As a general rule, it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that deals with crises affecting Norwegians abroad.5 If the Ministry’s crisis management system is unable to deal with the situation alone, an emergency response team will be established. Other ministries and government agencies will support the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as needed, depending on the scale and nature of the crisis. In such situations, the Government’s crisis council may be convened to coordinate the ministries and others involved in the crisis management operation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ crisis management system was established on the basis of the guidelines set out in the white paper on the tsunami in South-East Asia and the central crisis management system.

As part of ongoing crisis preparedness, all diplomatic and consular missions carry out risk analyses and draw up contingency plans for their respective areas of responsibility, which are updated annually or more frequently. Regular exercises are also held both at the missions abroad and in Oslo to prepare for different types of crisis.

Since 2005, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a crisis response team on a number of occasions, for example, in connection with the terrorist attack in London in July 2005, the cartoon controversy in 2006 (when the Norwegian Embassy in Damascus was set on fire), the Lebanon crisis in summer 2006, the attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul in January 2008, the kidnapping of a Norwegian journalist in Afghanistan in November 2009, the earthquake in Chile in spring 2010, the political unrest in Egypt at the beginning of 2011, and the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.

On the whole, the Ministry’s crisis management system has functioned well. However, ways to further professionalise the system are considered on an ongoing basis. These include improving training and exercises, closer coordination between the Foreign Ministry Response Centre and the rest of the crisis management system, and the introduction of new technology to maintain an up-to-date overview of Norwegian citizens in crisis areas and to get in touch with them.

Boks 7.2 The Government’s crisis council

The Government’s crisis council is responsible for the strategic coordination of complex crises. A crisis does not have to be particularly severe for the crisis council to be convened. It assesses which ministry should lead the response, and ensures that the measures implemented are closely coordinated and that information to the media, the general public and others is clear and consistent. The permanent members of the crisis council are the secretaries general of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Health and Care Services.

The Government’s crisis council is to ensure that matters requiring political approval are quickly submitted to the ministers concerned or the Government for consideration. The crisis council has a coordinating role, but the competent ministry still has decision-making authority regarding individual matters in crisis situations. The ministry that is designated to lead the response serves as a secretariat for the crisis council and is assisted in this task by the Government’s crisis support unit. The crisis support unit is responsible for preparing up-to-date situation reports and analyses and dealing with information to the media and the general public.

Experience from previous crises has demonstrated the importance of maintaining a close dialogue with other actors such as the Norwegian Church Abroad, travel agencies, insurance companies, etc. This will continue to be in focus in future crises.

Experience from situations where the Norwegian authorities have helped to evacuate people from a crisis area has revealed a need to clarify who may be included in such evacuations. For example, only Norwegian citizens and others who are lawfully resident in Norway are entitled to transport back to Norway. One of the challenges that arose during the Lebanon crisis was that family members of Norwegian citizens were evacuated to Norway without a visa or residence permit. There were also problems involving Norwegian citizens with no ties to Norway, and no social or family network here, who did not have anywhere to stay or anyone to turn to for help when they arrived in the country.

The Government has therefore decided to introduce more clearly defined rules for dealing with such situations. Importance will be attached to keeping families together. This means that when a person is offered assistance in leaving an area, his or her immediate family (spouse, registered partner/cohabitant and children) will be offered the same assistance.

The Lebanon crisis also showed that, in some cases, Norwegian citizens may need to be evacuated rapidly by sea. Most ships are not, however, equipped to transport a large number of passengers. The Ministry of Trade and Industry, in cooperation with the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning, has therefore drawn up contingency plans for rapid provision of food, water, life jackets, etc. The civil defence has also developed plans for establishing reception centres for large numbers of Norwegians who return to Norway after having been evacuated from abroad.

No two crises are alike, and it is essential to maintain a strategic and operational flexibility for dealing with individual crises within a general framework. In the Foreign Ministry’s view, the current crisis management system takes this fully into account.

7.2 International cooperation on crisis preparedness and management

The Nordic countries cooperate closely in matters concerning crisis preparedness and management, both at capital level and in third countries. This cooperation is in addition to the established consular cooperation between the Nordic countries. Cooperation in crisis situations includes everything from contingency planning and the regular exchange of information to joint exercises and coordination of activities in actual crisis situations. The division of tasks such as dealing with the media, manning family support centres and setting up rosters at hospitals, airports, etc., is also agreed at local level as needed.

Formalised consular cooperation between the EU countries is still being developed. At the same time, the EU countries are increasingly coordinating their response to accidents, natural disasters and other crises, particularly with regard to information sharing, but also with regard to evacuations. The European Commission is currently considering establishing common guidelines under the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection on how the member states can coordinate their efforts to safeguard the needs and rights of EU citizens in the event of major incidents and crises.

The Nordic EU countries are participating actively in EU cooperation in this area and are interested in coordinating their efforts with Norway as well. In some cases Norway has been able to participate directly in EU coordination activities at both local and central level.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to attach great importance to assisting Norwegians abroad in connection with crises and disasters, and will improve crisis preparedness, hold regular exercises, further develop the system for registering travel information prior to departure, and provide information and advice to Norwegian citizens abroad. Importance will also be attached to further developing Nordic cooperation in this field and cooperating more closely with the EU on crisis management where possible and appropriate.

Figur 7.1 

Figur 7.1



Cf. Chapter 4.3.


For example, a first aid kit, torch, extra mobile phone battery, etc.


Cf. (Norwegian only).


Norway has for example drawn up a national preparedness plan for pandemic influenza, cf.


Exceptions to this may be made in the case of incidents that occur in the immediate vicinity of Norway. In such cases, the ministry responsible for the sector that is most severely affected will lead the response, with the support of other affected ministries and the Government’s crisis support unit.

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