| Nicosia

Ambassador Gjelstad on Gender, Migration and Trafficking in Europe

From the left: Hubert Faustmann (FES), Yolanda Valassopoulou (EC Cyprus), Ambassador Jørn Gjelstad and Harry Tzimitras (PCC).
From the left: Hubert Faustmann (FES), Yolanda Valassopoulou (EC Cyprus), Ambassador Jørn Gjelstad and Harry Tzimitras (PCC).

Ambassador Jørn E. Gjelstad´s welcoming remarks at the conference "Gender, Migration and Trafficking in Europe". The conference, taking place in Nicosia 29 September 2017, was co-organized by PRIO and Symbiosis.

Dear, Mr. Mayor of Nicosia, Constantinos Yiorkadjis

Dear friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today at this important conference to discuss the topical issue of migration, gender and trafficking in Europe.

Looking into the migration challenge in the southeastern corner of Europe, we can currently observe a small breathing pause to recalibrate from the tsunami of arrivals of refugees and migrants that we all observed during the last years. Even if the numbers have drastically dropped since the peak of the crisis, much seems to suggest that the migration pressure against Europe will continue. Even with a political solution of the Syrian crisis and a stabilization of the Middle East, we should not tend to believe that challenges from migration would be finally over. The Syrian crises has profoundly changed the mindset and calculations of people not only fleeing from war and terror, but living under extreme difficult conditions as well:

You can escape; you can find better opportunities elsewhere. It is a matter of courage, it is a matter of stamina and it is a matter of your capacity to endure trials and tribulations.

Migration of people to Europe is not a new phenomenon. However, by the disintegration of the Middle East, the numbers have exploded. For the future, we have to prepare ourselves for migrants deciding to come out of rational calculations connected to a variety of reasons: local conflicts, the negative impact from climate change, increasing economic deprivation, systemic discrimination, harassment and persecution as well as other forms of marginalization. Lack of work and inequality is a push factor, and Europe is for many the Promised Land. We have to acknowledge that.

Therefore, I think it should be non-controversial to say that migration should be considered as an integrated and permanent part of the present and future reality of Europe, and the decision-making processes in the capitals.

As part of the Schengen cooperation, Norway is working with our European partners to find common practical solutions to these challenges.

In Greece we have allocated almost a third of the existing program of EEA grants to strengthen the capacity for migration and asylum management. In Cyprus, we have run projects to combat human trafficking. We are now about to enter a new seven year funding period, where Norway will contribute 117 million euros to Greece and 12 million euros to Cyprus. Migration and asylum management as well as combatting trafficking will continue to be key areas.

Second, Norway has voluntarily contributed to the EU scheme for relocation of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece. This relocation program has been managed most efficiently, and has alleviated some of the migration pressure on the frontline Member States.

Third, we have also taken active part in the operations in the Mediterranean to strengthen external border control and save lives. The two Norwegian vessels Siem Pilot and Peter Henry von Koss have picked up over 40 000 people during their deployment (between 2015 and June this year, when they ended their operations with FRONTEX).

Finally yet importantly, Norway has stepped up significantly our humanitarian assistance to Syria and the neighboring countries, which so far have received more than 5 million refugees. At the donor conference in London last year we announced a contribution of NOK 10 billion (1,1 billion euro) over a four-year period, out of which at least 15% of the aid will go to education initiatives for the younger generation. This to create hope and purpose within their own region, and for reducing the risk of losing a whole generation of young people. Following up our pledges, Norway will this year provide more than NOK 2.5 bill (or 270-mill euro) for various projects.

As we all know, migration entails both new possibilities and significant challenges. In addition, to speak in accordance with the main topic of today – migration, trafficking and gender - I have to dwell a bit on the latter. One of the greatest challenge related to the current pattern of migration is the increased risk of human trafficking. Trafficking should not automatically be linked to migration, but there is a strong connection. With the new waves of people coming to Europe, we have experienced increased activity with this abhorrent practice. One of the main reasons is that almost all refugees and migrants using irregular routes into Europe end up completely dependent on their smugglers. Many refugees cannot pay the fee required up front, and end up working virtually free, trapped by debts to the smugglers, thus losing their freedom completely to forced labor. Others end up brutally misused and exploited sexually. The IOM (International Organization for Migration) has identified refugees and migrants as the groups most vulnerable to trafficking, with women and girls within these groups most at risk for exploitation.

I think it is fair to say that people of different genders experience migration differently, with their own set of advantages and vulnerabilities. The gender-perspective is important because it is key to any effective, targeted and organizational response to migrants. I am stating this with a particular view to the support that will be provided on arrival, the way we are conducting the asylum procedures as well as the ensuing orchestration of the integration process.  If we fail apply the gender-perspective, we might fall into the trap of perpetuating the vulnerabilities of specific groups.

In relation to human trafficking, both genders are just as vulnerable and as much as victims to this organized criminality. Also in this context, taylor-made, gender-specific approaches to the victims are key.

It is clear that women and girls experience specific protection risks and needs in migratory situations. However, by rightfully strengthening our focus and care for this vulnerable group, we can easily lose sight of others that also merit great attention. In this connection, I would like to bring attention to two other such groups:

First, we have to stay focused on all unaccompanied children who have ventured the migration trail. Statistically this group consist mostly of young boys. Throughout every stage of migration, these young boys stand at great risk of sex trafficking, forced labor and sexual exploitation.

And second, we should take into account the extensive discrimination and violence suffered by sexual minorities. These people, many of which are trying to escape discrimination, ill-treatment and violence in their home countries, are often as vulnerable to the same challenges along their migration routes and in the camps as those that they are fleeing from.

On this backdrop, we believe we have a moral and legal responsibility to act. Last year Norway adopted an action plan against trafficking, aiming at both strengthening prevention and increasing assistance to victims. Trafficking needs to be uncovered, investigated and punished. Strong measures should be taken on both national and international level if we are to succeed.

Measures are often easy to agree on, but they are a lot more demanding to implement. Like all other countries, also Norway has a lot of work to do. The Norwegian Government’s annual report on Human Trafficking was issued last month. This report underscores the importance to develop a comprehensive national strategy to replace all the ad-hoc solutions that so far have dominated this area. Given the challenging tasks of identifying victims, to provide them with adequate support and assistance, and not at least to track down the traffickers/ perpetrators, we need a much a stronger cooperation between relevant public authorities and civil society.  For Norway, the NGOs stand out as a strategic partner if we are to succeed. Concerted efforts and integrated procedures must be the call of the day.

However, combating trafficking is an impossible task for any country alone. In this fight, no single country can make a difference. It is therefore important that we strengthen the international dimension and combat this heinous activity as what it rightly is; a transnational organized crime. We must share information, develop joint action plans and coordinate broadly in order to combat these networks effectively. Norway will continue to advocate for strengthened international cooperation. In this context, I would also draw attention to the importance to increase both ratification and implementation to the Convention on Action Against Trafficking by the Council of Europe.

I would also like to use this opportunity to commend the Republic of Cyprus for making significant progress in combatting trafficking and providing support to victims. The number of identified victims have significantly increased during the last years. The government has approved a national referral mechanism outlining procedures for victim identification and referrals to government services. The number of police in the anti-trafficking unit have been increased, and the unit´s authority has been expanded. It is now equipped to take the lead in all trafficking investigations. We have also seen an increase in law-enforcement activities. Together with the country´s participation in international legal frameworks, it is clear that trafficking is a priority for the Government of Cyprus. Efforts taken are making a significant difference. Still we see challenges in the North Cypriot part, however, where impunity for human trafficking seems to continue.

In Cyprus Norway has, through the EEA and Norway Grants supported the EMBRACING project. This is a direct service and advocacy initiative for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. Identification, protection and adequate support of the victim are key areas of the project.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude for once again attending an important event at the Centre for Visual Arts and Research (CVAR). This institution means, as you know, a lot to Norway. Just as the Home for Cooperation does. Norway believes that both CVAR and Home for Cooperation in the Buffer Zone, contribute to true bridge building between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island. By doing so, they both creates a unique framework for discussing topics of common relevance within in important societal areas in Cyprus.

Finally, I would like to thank the organizers of this conference – SYMBIOSIS and PRIO Cyprus, and especially Harry Tzimitras, director of PRIO and Ms. Despina Syrri, the President of SYMBIOSIS.

Once again, you are highlighting important and complex issues of great current value. In particular when discussing migration, we often run in to challenges. This issue has been politicized long before it has been analyzed within a proper framework. We have all seen how discussion on migration often reflects a toxic context of high emotions and limited knowledge. Clusters of values and moral judgements tend to shape reasoning rather the other way around. So let us today move beyond our snap value-based judgements for the benefit of our rational capacities.

I wish you all a very productive and informative day!

Thank you!