International Dialogue on Migration 2017

Statement delivered by Ms. Aud Kolberg, Deputy Secretary General, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the International Dialogue on Migration 2017, 18 - 19 July. Understanding migrant vulnerabilities: A solution-based approach towards a global compact that reduces vulnerabilities and empowers migrants.

Intervention during panel 2 – Identifying migrant vulnerabilities – structural and situational factors of vulnerability.

Thank you chair,

I would like to start by thanking IOM for the invitation to participate in this dialogue on a very important, timely and complex topic. Before addressing some of the guiding questions for this specific panel, I would like to make a more general comment on the use of the term “vulnerable”.

There is a need to remind each other that most of today’s migration is legal, voluntary and positive, for the people concerned, the countries of origin and destination. The way we talk about migration and migrants influences public perception and debate, and in turn national policies. It is important to remember, and to express clearly, that migrants are not vulnerable per se. Although many are vulnerable, we cannot generalize about “migrants” as if it were one, homogenous group across the globe. I was therefore happy to hear the opening statement of Director General Swing this morning.

Vulnerability especially occurs in relation with irregular migration, typically along various points of the migratory routes, often crossing several countries. In my view, it is therefore more precise and more fruitful to debate migrants in vulnerable situations. The reason for this is not to minimize the magnitude and seriousness of the topics we are discussing, but on the contrary, to build a stronger case for the vulnerable migrants that we do need to address.

Last year, the UN member states committed at the highest political level to address the special needs of those who end up in vulnerable situations within large movements of refugees and migrants. Norway stands by its commitment in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. But how we address vulnerability will be a key question in the process of developing successfully the two global compacts.

We believe the following points deserve attention:

First, we need to retain the clear distinction between refugees and migrants.

As stated in the New York Declaration, refugees and migrants face many common challenges and may experience similar vulnerabilities, but as groups they are governed by separate legal frameworks. We believe this principle must be upheld. Minimizing the difference will not provide more protection to migrants in vulnerable situations. We must distinguish between the need for international protection that refugees have and the needs that migrants in particular vulnerable situations are facing.

Second, we need to underline the existing bodies of law that relate to the protection of and assistance to migrants.

The background paper for this dialogue rightly reminds us not only of the human rights of all migrants, but also of the protocols related to smuggling and trafficking, as well as relevant labor law provisions. In particular situations there are also other relevant frameworks such as environmental law, international disaster response law, and in situations of armed conflict, international humanitarian law as well as national legislation and regional instruments and soft law approaches.

I believe that the main challenge for the international community is our obligation to implement existing legal frameworks. We need to realize the potential and intention of these bodies of law. A non-binding new framework such as a “compact” cannot replace legally binding commitments, and should not aspire to do so. What we need to do is to look for stronger international commitment to monitoring and accountability.

Third, we must get better at understanding and identifying vulnerability.

We share this goal with IOM, and we appreciate your efforts to promote a more nuanced understanding of the concept of vulnerability. This can help us identify the vulnerable, who are those most in need of international attention and assistance. It can also help us use the available resources more efficiently. In a time when needs grow faster than resources, this is needed if we want to make a real difference through this process.

Moving on, we have a few questions concerning the model that IOM has proposed for identifying migrant vulnerabilities.

We believe the intention behind the proposal is good, namely to reach those who fall through the gaps between existing frameworks. Still, we are concerned that by broadening the scope and covering too much ground, we risk diverting attention, and in turn financing, away from those who need it the most.

The proposal includes a large spectrum of factors, from the individual to the international level, including history, geography, politics and economy, when assessing vulnerability. If this model is to become a useful tool for practitioners in the field, how will they be able to take all of this into account?

And maybe more importantly: If this model is meant to serve as input to guidelines for states and other stakeholders in the field of migration on a national level, how do we avoid weakening the implementation of existing frameworks through the proposal of new ones?


My questions must not be interpreted as minimizing the fact that people are falling between the nets of existing frameworks, and that there are migrants in need of strengthened and coordinated international effort. We recognize this, and Norway believes we must work to address it.

I think there are examples that could guide us.

In order to reduce the possible risk of trying to cover too much ground, we should look to examples that have been developed and deployed in order to solve specific, on-the ground-challenges. Most of them have in common that they have been government-led, non-binding, practical and context specific. The rally around them is an indication that this approach might be an effective way of addressing particular situations of vulnerability.

The Nansen Initiative, led by Switzerland and Norway, is an example of how it was possible to address a specific protection gap, in this case related to disaster-induced cross-border displacement. This work is now being followed up by Germany and Bangladesh, through the Platform on Disaster Displacement. Another example is the Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative led by the United States and the Philippines. African countries’ work on a Freedom of Movement protocol is another promising regional initiative.

To sum up, and looking ahead towards the development of the actual global compact on migration, Norway would like to see

  • a continued distinction between refugees and migrants in general
  • a strong emphasis on the implementation of existing legal frameworks
  • references to good examples and concrete proposals from the field and space for local and regional solutions to identify and address specific protection gaps.

As clearly spelled out in the New York Declaration, we are determined to saving lives, and contributing to a solutions-based approach towards a global compact that reduces vulnerabilities and empowers migrants.

Thank you.