Distinguished guests, friends,
It is with pride that I address you today at this closing event of the SOAM Project of the EEA Norway Grants for the current period (2009-2014). The project has yielded positive results. It has given many vulnerable asylum seekers a place to stay and the necessary services in a difficult time.
What does this support actually mean?
Marian 13, and Myrna 12, are sisters who have fled from war and terror in Syria. In the shelter they have experienced empathy and engagement, care and safety. Anxiety and insecurity have been replaced by predictability and regularity. That has meant a lot for those girls.
Saklain, 16, is from Pakistan. His troublesome background has in Greece been translated into regular schooling and cricket playing together with his friends thanks to this project.
And Nuria and her four daughters are from Afghanistan. They are also staying in Greece hoping to join husband and father in Sweden.
These are people that have all together been staying in one of our four SOAM reception centers that has been run by three different consortia of Greek NGOs: Stegi+, Mellon, and MDM.
From October 2013, these NGOs have provided 272 reception places to vulnerable asylum seekers in Greece. This includes 120 for unaccompanied minors and 152 places for single parent families, elderly, vulnerable women and victims of trafficking and/or torture. Approximately 3 000 asylum seekers have stayed at these centers financed by Norway during the project period. A priority has been to ensure the best possible quality of the accommodation and the services provided at the shelters.
The project has included a significant involvement from the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA).
In addition, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has been advising the stakeholders in the project during the whole process.
And not at least, the project has been managed professionally by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In short, we are most satisfied with the results of this project.
It was not a coincidence that the first migration program of the EEA Grants was implemented in Greece during the funding period of 2009-2014. In 2010, the Greek authorities had just adopted a national plan for the migration management, giving the migration situation a priority. Seeing the migration challenge as an all- European issue, and not reducing it to a national responsibility only, Norway felt committed to support Greece in a sustainable way. Norway has the firm belief that the area of migration is a cross-cutting European responsibility that commits us all.
We know how difficult this issue is. Through the decades we have tried to develop a comprehensive and flexible system for migration management – together with local governments, non-governmental organizations and private stakeholders. This has been – and still are - challenging on many levels. A well-functioning asylum system is always subject to a changing environment- that is it its nature. And, it need constant focus and support.
That is why the long term funding through the EEA Norway Grants was a good tool for supporting our colleagues in implementing the Greek national plan on migration management. The Norwegian funding was also flexible enough to adapt to the migration crises that developed in 2015 and 2016, and the migration programs was extended for one year – including the SOAM project.
In order to holistically support the national plan, from arrival and screening - via accommodation in reception facilities - to decisions in their asylum claim, it was necessary to focus on specific groups of migrants and asylum seekers. In close cooperation with Greek authorities, international organizations and non- governmental organization (NGOs), we were able to tailor-make the support to the most vulnerable segments of the migration population; unaccompanied minors, single parent families, elderly, vulnerable women and victims of trafficking and/or torture.
This focus also underline the overall and longstanding Norwegian humanitarian support worldwide given by both the Norwegian government and our NGOs. This priority is national and completely bi-partisan.
When the migration crises hit Europe and Greece in the summer of 2015, we could see the importance of the NGOs as a first responder to the precarious situation that developed on the island in the Aegean. NGOs from Greece and other countries were on the spot to support the migrants and asylum seekers. A Norwegian NGO was actually “born” on Lesvos, the Drop in the Ocean, and has facilitated for more than 3 500 volunteers working in Greece.
Norway experienced the same involvement from NGOs in the autumn of 2015, when the sheer numbers of asylum seekers overburdened our migration system.
So, please let me at this point dwell a bit on volunteerism, meaning the responsible and considerate commitment from the civil society to solve societal problems. It characterizes the way we are doing things both in Norway and Greece.
It is a fact that democracies become more robust and well developed with a strong contribution from the civil society. A vibrant democracy is dependent on impulses from its citizens, and the NGOs serve as an important communication channel between the public and the private areas. The civil society contributes to both welfare and democracy. It is in itself a platform where population can experience social inclusion.
The Norwegian governments have through the years acted within this area not only out of moral responsibility both also for rational reasons; namely to utilize the social resources in societies in the best possible socio-economic manner. Social equality fosters political stability. Social inequality entails dysfunctionalities and threaten us with disintegration. Marginalized people are not in a position to contribute effectively to the society they live in. And sustained inequality structures of a certain level undermines the very foundation for economic growth and prosperity. It is just that simple.
For those of you that are not very familiar with the EEA Norway Grants, let me briefly mentioned that they represent the contribution of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein to reducing economic and social disparities and to strengthening bilateral relations with the EU countries in Central and Southern Europe. Through the European Economic Area Agreement, these three countries are partners in the internal market with the EU member states. Ever since the establishment of the EEA in 1994, the Donor states have provided funding to reduce social and economic disparities and to promote important values and norms.
Please let me also address a few points on Norway’s broader engagement in Greece for the coming years. We have the new funding period in front of us leading up to 2021 with a total allocation of almost €120 million. Negotiations are still ongoing and hopefully we will be able to finalize the pertinent MOU with the Greek State before summer.
In the context of the new program, the area of migration and asylum management will be highly prioritized. The capacity to tackle the migration challenge has to be supported. We now that this crisis leave behind a responsibility that commits us all across Europa.
Norway will also support entrepreneurship and innovation, in particular with a view to the young educated people; Greek research and technology innovative efforts; green energy and resource management programs, Greek civil society organizations, and support to the poorest segment of the Greek society. All these areas stand out as important benchmarks for us.
In conclusion, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the NGOs that have participated in the SOAM program whose successful completion we celebrate today. The efforts made by PRAKSIS, the Hellenic Red Cross, NOSTOS, AISIS, ERGOEREVNITIKI, EDAP, the Society for the Development and Creative Occupation of Children, the Doctors of the World, and the Greek Council of Refugees is just impressive.
Congratulation for a job well done!
Lastly, our heartfelt thanks go to the IOM for managing the Fund in such a professional manner which made it possible to achieve these excellent results.
Norway is most grateful!
Thank you all for the attention.