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Opening address by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Nordic Council thematic debate

Reykjavik, 27 October 2015

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Mr President, Esteemed Colleagues, Nordic Friends,

They travelled towards the north-west. They came from different countries, fleeing from conflicts, from oppression, from poverty and starvation. Many of them had only what they could carry, and had to try to build a new life for themselves and their families.

That is how this beautiful country was founded – the country we today call Iceland. That’s why there is no better place to gather to discuss the greatest challenge currently facing the Nordic countries – the global refugee crisis.

We are all aware of the situation. Escalating wars, conflicts and oppression, combined with greater opportunities to move between countries, has produced the largest number of refugees since the Second World War.

All the Nordic countries have seen increased refugee flows, and my country now estimates that in 2015 alone, up to 190 000 people may seek asylum in Sweden. We have filled our refugee centres, hostels, old school buildings and public premises. Preparations are now being made for housing in tents.

People in Sweden have taken on the responsibility with immediate empathy. We have seen heinous, racist acts of violence, murder and arson. But Sweden’s greatest contribution is defined by the struggle against racism, fundraising and volunteer work, resolution and humanism. We are proud of this.

The Swedish Government is also working around the clock to support municipalities, social workers, teachers and the police – who are doing a fantastic job – through national coordination, new legislation and increased resources. But in recent weeks, it has become clear that the Swedish reception system is nearing the limit of its capacity.

We previously fought for a more equal distribution of refugees across the EU, and we now request that Sweden be part of the EU’s relocation scheme, so that people who apply for asylum in Sweden can be resettled in other EU countries.

Sweden will also apply for EU funds for the large number of refugees we have received. No one can doubt Sweden’s humanitarian commitment, but our capacity is also limited. All countries must now take their full responsibility.

The time has come to acknowledge that refugee reception is facing a paradigm shift – from being a national issue to being an international issue. We in the Nordic countries must safeguard our openness to the world around us. This is – and will remain – one of our countries’ greatest strengths. We must safeguard the right of asylum. It is a human right, and a right that we all want to know would apply if war one day came to us.

And the best way to safeguard both openness and the right of asylum is to have orderly and regulated immigration that does not give rise to shadow societies and that has broad public support.

And, in turn, the best way to safeguard orderly and regulated immigration is through the even distribution of refugee reception in Europe – and in the Nordic countries. It is therefore time for all Nordic countries to take their responsibility to enable an even distribution.

At the same time, we must take action against the causes of the refugee crisis. We must focus on efforts to create stability and security in the Middle East. This requires statebuilding, counter-terrorism activities, democratic development, water resources management and combating climate change. In these areas, the Nordic countries can make significant contributions.

We have extensive experience of mediation. That is why, in addition to helping in the fight against ISIL, we should also intensify our efforts to support Staffan de Mistura’s peace mediation efforts in Syria and the creation of an international contact group consisting of key actors. We must also clearly call for a stop to Russia’s bombing of the armed opposition. There is no military solution to the war in Syria, only a political solution.

We are also prominent development cooperation partners. For example, next year, Sweden will launch a five-year regional strategy for the Syrian crisis. The strategy focuses on improving people’s life chances in Syria and its neighbouring countries through their ability to provide for themselves, combatting sexual violence and enhanced capacity for statebuilding. But its impact naturally depends on the combined contributions of all actors – what we do together.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the face of all global challenges – whether they involve refugee issues, peace-making or the transition to a sustainable world – all countries must step up and take their responsibility.

And we do this in the Nordic region, guided by the principle that has always characterised our cooperation. We may be strong on our own – but we are always strongest when we stand together.