Bern, 02.10.2012 - Norway and Switzerland intend to set up an international agenda for the protection of persons forced to leave their country as a consequence of natural disasters. The Nansen Initiative was launched in Geneva on 2 October 2012 in the presence of Steffen Kongstad, Norway's Ambassador to the UN, and Manuel Bessler, the Federal Council delegate for humanitarian aid. The initiative aims to address the need for normative and institutional measures to protect those affected.
The ceremony in the Palais des Nations to launch the Nansen Initiative, which is named after the polar explorer and first High Commissioner for Refugees Fridtjof Nansen, was attended by numerous representatives of states, NGOs and the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Manuel Bessler, the Federal Council delegate for humanitarian aid, representing Switzerland, said in his address: "During my deployments in affected regions such as the Horn of Africa I found that cross-border movements caused by natural disasters are a real problem that has increased in importance in recent years.
It has been proven that there is a need for measures to protect persons displaced by natural disasters. Every year millions of people have to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere because of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and other natural disasters. Many of these find shelter in their own country but others have to cross national borders. Movements such as these are likely to increase as a result of global warming. National and international measures to protect the persons affected are either non-existent or inadequate.
While displaced persons are protected in their own country by the UN guidelines on internal displacement and by regional instruments, there is a gap in legislation governing cross-border movements caused by natural disasters. Usually such persons are not victims of persecution and are therefore not protected under the UN Convention on Refugees. Moreover, the Human Rights Conventions do not govern key aspects such as the right to enter a country, settlement and the basic rights of those affected. There is also a lack of criteria to distinguish between cross-border movements caused by natural disasters and voluntary migration.
An inter-state process is required in order to close these gaps. At the UNHCR Ministerial Meeting held in Geneva in December 2011, Norway and Switzerland pledged to cooperate with interested countries to formulate solutions to protect persons displaced externally due to natural disasters. This pledge was welcomed by various other States and provides the basis for the Nansen Initiative. The initiative of Norway and Switzerland aims to formulate a protection agenda to serve as the basis for concrete activities in the fields of prevention, protection and assistance during cross-border displacement, return and other permanent solutions for the period following a natural disaster.
Over the next three years the initiative will carry out a series of consultations with governments and representatives of civil society in regions which are particularly affected, on the basis of which a global dialogue will then be organised with a view to formulating a protection agenda. The Nansen Initiative will be headed by a steering group consisting of between six and eight States of the South and North under the chairmanship of Norway and Switzerland. Professor Walter Kälin, a well-known Swiss expert in human rights, has been proposed as envoy of the chairmanship. A consultative committee consisting of representatives of civil society and international organisations will assist the process. The Nansen Initiative is supported by a small secretariat based in Geneva.