The flow of refugees and migrants has put enormous pressure on the asylum systems in many European countries. However, there are big differences between European countries in terms of their willingness to receive refugees and asylum-seekers.
'Solutions to these challenges cannot be found at the national level; we have to find joint European solutions. And we can only do so by cooperating more closely and if all countries shoulder their share of the responsibility. Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we can help to establish proper systems to ensure that refugees seeking entry to Europe receive protection,' said Mr Helgesen.
This will be an important topic in the negotiations on how the EEA and Norway Grants are to be used during the next seven-year period (2014–21). Norway and the beneficiary countries will decide together on the priority areas for this period.
'Given the situation in Europe's neighbourhood, there is a need for us to take both immediate and long-term action. The flow of refugees is not likely to stop this autumn or even next year. We need joint European solutions, and it is vital that all EU countries do their part. I believe we can use the EEA and Norway Grants to promote a stronger sense of solidarity in Europe,' said Mr Helgesen.
Currently, funds totalling EUR 20.8 million from the EEA and Norway Grants are being used on asylum and migration projects in Greece. The Norwegian Government has also proposed to the Greek authorities that these efforts could be intensified by transferring EUR 5 million from other programmes.
'We have made it clear to the Greek authorities that we want to continue our support for improving the country's asylum system capacity in the time ahead. However, it may also be appropriate for us to support measures of this kind in a number of other beneficiary countries,' said Mr Helgesen.
This summer, Norway and the EU reached a new agreement on Norway's contribution to reducing social and economic disparities in Europe. Norway will provide around NOK 3.3 billion (EUR 388 million) annually to 15 EU countries in northern, central and southern Europe. The agreement covers the 2014–21 period.
Once the agreement has been formally approved by the Storting, negotiations will begin with each beneficiary country to decide how the funds are to be used.