Speech by Ambassador Gjelstad during the Stakeholder Consultation for the Asylum & Migration Programme under the EEA Grants 2014-2021

Stakeholder Consultation for the Asylum & Migration Programme

8th January 2018, Athens

Dear Stakeholders,
Dear Friends,

It is with excitement and expectations I participate here today at the Stakeholder Meeting on Asylum and Migration. Our discussions on ideas and challenges will inform the way we will work,  and lay the foundation of the renewed EEA programme for the coming period. I believe it is important to build on previous achievements, but also to adapt to changing circumstances if we are to develop viable management systems within this important area of the Greek society. We have to be well prepared, because challenges will meet us at an ever-faster pace, thus increasing the pressure on governance capacity and management capabilities. Therefore, a well-defined strategy to absorb and adjust is required. To be successful, relevant institutions must be robust, flexible and responsive.

Together we have so far achieved a lot, but there is still some more to go.

I have on several occasions stated that migration should be looked at as an integrated and permanent part of the present and future reality of Europe, and the political decision-making processes in each single capital. All three operative components of its triad, namely the reception-part, the asylum management procedures and a comprehensive framework for integration measures, are equally important in our efforts to deal adequately with the this challenge. 

We know that local conflicts, the impact from climate change, economic deprivation, systemic discrimination, and persecution are push factors that drives many people on the run in search of a better life. The Syrian crisis has definitely changed the mindset and calculations of people, not only to flee away from war and terror, but from extreme difficult living conditions as well.

The migration pressure on Greece has been extraordinary during the last years. During this difficult period, Greece managed to establish and run well-functioning institutions to receive migrants and process asylum applications – namely the First Reception and the Asylum Services. This made it possible for Greece to tackle the immense number of arrivals on the islands when the crisis finally peaked. Norway is proud to have been a partner in these efforts through the EEA grants. 

Looking back once more, one realizes that 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, and by doing so elevating this issue to a matter of political priority. Seeing the migration challenge as an all- European issue and responsibility, and not reducing it to a national concern only, Norway felt committed to support Greece in a sustainable way. We look at the migration challenge in the southern part of Europe as a cross-cutting European responsibility that commits us all.

As in the past, the main objective of the programme is to ensure a well-functioning national asylum and migration system and to safeguard the right to seek asylum. The new programme will once more contribute to the capacity building of the national asylum and migration management system. We will give priority to ensuring the legal protection and care for the most vulnerable groups of the asylum seekers, especially the unaccompanied children.

We are all well aware of how difficult and complex migration management is. Throughout the last decades, Norway has tried to develop a national system for migration management that is both comprehensive and flexible. The Norwegian system is based on the cooperation with local governments, non-governmental organizations and private stakeholders. To implement such a model has its challenges, because a well-functioning asylum system constantly has to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Not surprisingly, this area needs continuous focus and support in order to sustain its relevance. 

 That is why we believe that the long term funding through the EEA Norway Grants has been an expedient and useful tool for our Greek colleagues in their implementation of the Greek national plan. And, that is why we have decided to continue and expand this support throughout the new funding period. Continuity, predictability, patience and relevance are our assets in this regard.

 Eventhough adequate funding is crucial, it is not sufficient. We also need to develop strategies to meet the unknown, in particular in an environment of less certainty and predictability. One such unknown element that might impact the new programme will be the future of the EU-Turkey statement. Will it stick or will it break?

 Since last August, the migration flows from Turkey have increased considerably to approximately 110 persons per day, an increase of almost 30% since the initial implementation of the statement. When it comes to asylum application in Greece, we can observe an explosion in numbers from 13 000 early 2015 to almost 55 000 by the end of November last year. The prediction for 2018 is 75 000. The larger region to the east and the south is currently saturated with conflicts. And unless stabilization initiatives prove themselves possible, it would be hard to predict how the migration situation will develop over time, and to plan accordingly.  What we can do is to establish systems and procedures flexible enough to adjust to adverse eventualities. But even so, it will all depends on the number of arrivals as well as the chosen inroads to this country. It is not difficult to foresee how new realities easily can outpace available capacities.

 Therefore, we all need to pull together. Enhancing the interaction and cooperation with relevant civil society organizations should be a requirement. And we speak from experience when we emphasis the role of a broadened partnerships in migration management. Norway sees civil society in any country as a necessary, strategic partner to the Government. Civil society is a resource that bring different perspectives, different experience and different skills and services. Together with local authorities and governmental entities, they must be included in our planning. We can simply not afford to refrain from teaming up in this way.

We are therefore pleased to note the diversity of participants at this Stakeholder Meeting, ranging from key Government institutions and local authorities to non-governmental actors. Everyone bringing in and contributing with their own competence, skills, experience and vision.


To achieve our goals, close cooperation with the Ministry of Migration Policy is a prerequisite. The Asylum Service and the Reception & Identification Service stand out as key partners for us. Both institutions have been the core implementing entities of this programme during the previous period, and both have demonstrated dedication, commitment and resolve.  We look forward to continuing our excellent partnership with them.

We also look forward to our renewed cooperation with the European Development Programs Division (EDPD or YDEAP, in Greek) of the Ministry of Interior & Citizen Protection.  It was through their dedication and professionalism in managing the program that we achieved positive results in the previous period.

The establishment and development of bilateral relations with entities in the Donor countries have also played an important role in the past period.

The guidance and expertise provided by UDI, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, has been a key ingredient in a strong partnership, and we are happy that they will be heavily involved once more in our Programme for Greece.

Since I have been mentioning the EEA Norway Grants throughout this address, let me briefly explain for those of you that are not very familiar with this mechanism what this is. The EEA refers to the European Economic Area. As Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are European countries that are not formally members of the European Union, we have a separate agreement that gives us access to the single European market through the EEA agreement. In return, we provide substantial funding earmarked for reducing economic and social disparities in selected European countries. This funding also has the aim of strengthening bilateral relations with the EU countries in Central and Southern Europe, Greece is one of them.

Through the EEA grants, Norway has decided to allocate to Greece 117 mill euros for the new programme leading up to 2021.

We will work together with Greek partners within a number of highly relevant areas in addition to migration and asylum management. We will inter alia focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, in particular with a view to assisting the young educated people in this country.  We believe it is urgent to develop enabling factors that can give the young educated people a renewed hope and opportunities in this country. Moreover, there will be a strong focus on green energy and water management programs and the Greek civil society organizations.  Support to the public administration’s digitalization services, the Greek Ombudsman, and the Greek Government’s fight against corruption will also be a priority. And not to forget, this programme will also heed the poorest segment of the Greek society, including the Roma people, by providing highly required and long-term funding.

In closing, I will urge you all to be creative and inventive in your discussions today.  Make sure that synergies are created, and that all relevant aspects of the migration-asylum challenge are being considered. Together we will make the difference.


Thank you for your attention.