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First of all I would like to express our appreciation to UNHCR for the update on achievements and presentational challenges in providing protection and solutions for refugees and others of concern.
Norway welcomes UNHCR’s imminent adoption of a policy on urban refugees and asylum seekers. We are particularly pleased with its emphasis on community orientation and efforts to enable refugees to take part in income-generating activities and thereby becoming self-reliant members of respective local communities.
Given the similarity of the challenges facing IDPs, we encourage UNHCR to explicitly expand the policy to also cover this group of concern. In this regard, we find it very timely that the upcoming High Commissioner’s Dialogue on protection challenges will focus on persons of concern in urban settings.
Norway commends UNHCR for its efforts towards resolving protracted refugee situations. We believe the Global Plan of Action is a most appropriate tool in this regard. Only through comprehensive strategies drawing on the whole set of humanitarian, developmental and political measures will we succeed in solving long standing refugee situations.
At the end of the day, it is often the synergies and spin off effects of repatriation, local integration and resettlement combined that will produce results. Short of voluntary repatriation, no one solution can normally dissolve a protracted situation.
We regret the difficulties thus far in reaching consensus on an EXCOM conclusion on protracted situations. We call on all members of the committee to contribute towards this end in the negotiations to follow.
Norway will continue to contribute towards solutions in the way of resettling refugees in close collaboration with UNHCR. We welcome UNHCR’s input to prioritize resettlement places so as to ensure their best utilization. We regard resettlement as an instrument which used strategically and in partnership with the host country and the country of origin, could serve as part of a comprehensive approach to resolving protracted situations.
A gender focus that takes account of the particular need of women is imperative to the Norwegian government. This is reflected in the objective of targeting girls and women for 55 percent and women at risk for 15 percent of the total Norwegian quota.
Although Norway is not an EU member, we support the establishment of a European Asylum Support Office and a development a Common European Asylum System. Norway welcomes UNHCR’s involvement in this development and work. We strongly believe that a common asylum system as regards reception, procedures and status determination will enhance the international framework for refugee protection in Europe and, hopefully a more harmonized asylum practice will emerge.
Norway welcomes the Swedish EU Presidency’s efforts, in cooperation with UNHCR, to create a common EU resettlement program. This will hopefully mean an expanded basis for resettlement. Combined efforts can, furthermore, yield strategic dividends and make a difference for effort to put an end to protracted refugee situations.
In line with the Assistant High Commissioner’s comments, we would like to underline the need for increased attention to challenges related to rescue of people in distress at sea. One must strive to achieve a consensus on international norms and rules regarding responsibility sharing. We are prepared to take part in a dialogue with the office on this issue.
Norway has experienced a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers. From 2007 to 2008 the number of asylum applications increased by 120 % and the figure is expected to be all time highs this year.
These mixed flows from wars, undignified living conditions and poverty pose serious challenges to the Norwegian asylum system. It is paramount to give refuge to persons in need of protection. Consequently UNHCR guidelines carry considerable weight when asylum cases are considered by Norwegian Immigration authorities. However, we see an urgent need for a more harmonized asylum practice as there is a highly divergent refugee recognition rates between European countries.
The exceptionally high number of unaccompanied minors among new arrivals is also a matter of particular concern to my government. For those individuals in this group deemed not to be in need of international protection we are now looking at ways and means to facilitate their return. They may e.g. be offered a place in care and education centers in their country of origin. Norway would welcome UNHCR’s advice on how to deal with this and other challenges.
In closing, Madam Chair, Norway would like to thank UNHCR staff that continue to make a difference in the field though their work and commitment.