Norway boosts aid to Syrian refugees

Norway said on Thursday that it would increase its financial aid to Syrian refugees to nearly 120 million euros ($134 million), making it one of the largest donors in the world.

Norway boosts aid to Syrian refugees
Syrian children play games at a refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development
In the government's spring budget bill to be presented on May 12, humanitarian aid to refugees in Syria an neighbouring countries will be increased by 250 million kroner to 1.0 billion kroner (119.1 million euros, $134 million) this year, Prime Minister Erna Solberg told parliament.
Norway is already the seventh biggest donor to the Syrian crisis in absolute numbers, and the second per capita behind Kuwait, she said.    
Solberg countered the opposition's demand to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years, arguing that aid was more effective when it was distributed locally and that the country was already struggling to find housing for existing refugees.
In 2015, the wealthy Scandinavian country plans to take in 1,500 Syrian refugees as part of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees annual quotas.
"The cost of settling in 1,000 refugees is estimated at one billion kroner over five years," Solberg said. "That means that instead of taking in one refugee in Norway, we can help 14 who are living in camps or 27 who do not live in camps in the region."
According to the Norwegian government, some 5,000 people who have been granted residency permits remain in refugee centres in Norway due to a lack of housing.
Solberg said her country would also offer Frontex, the European border control agency, a second rescue vessel in addition to one already offered to help patrol the Mediterranean, where migrants are risking their lives to reach Europe.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.