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VIENNA, 25 February 2016 – Nearly 300 lawmakers from Europe, Asia and North America, including four speakers of parliament, assembled today in Vienna for the opening of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s 2016 Winter Meeting, its first major convocation of the year.

The crisis of migrants and refugees, which tops the agenda at the two-day meeting, as well as the situation in and around Ukraine, were topics of parliamentary debate and presentations by senior OSCE officials.

“I believe that the OSCE and the PA are extremely well-suited to address [the migrants crisis] because of our unique approach: That is, considering all three dimensions of security. Indeed, that is the kind of comprehensive approach that this critical situation requires,” said Assembly President Ilkka Kanerva (MP, Finland) in opening remarks.

“Security matters, economic considerations, human rights and humanitarian factors, and, of course, politics, are all part of the picture here,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Heads of National Delegations to the Assembly agreed to form an ad hoc committee focused on migration.

The Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment and the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions also met today to discuss economic aspects of the migrants situation and the human rights of migrants and refugees, respectively.

On Ukraine, President Kanerva said the year 2016 could be “make or break time” and called on parliamentarians from all OSCE participating States to urge implementation of agreed commitments to resolve the conflict.

“I am seriously concerned and frustrated, as many of us are, that the one-year anniversary of Minsk II has come and gone and the international community is still calling for: a real ceasefire; the withdrawal of foreign fighters and weapons; legitimate local elections in the east of Ukraine; the restoration of Ukrainian control over its eastern border; and needed constitutional changes in Ukraine,” Kanerva said.

He urged for unmet 2015 deadlines from the Minsk Agreements to be replaced by new, specific dates and argued that deployment of an international peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine could give the Agreements “a needed boost.”

The PA President also called on Kyiv to launch a full-fledged effort to tackle corruption, putting aside political loyalties and infighting.

“Let us all remember that this was the primary aim of Maidan, and what a tragedy it would be if that aim were to go unfulfilled,” he said.

Russian Duma Chairperson Sergey Naryshkin, Kazakh Senate Chairperson Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Ukrainian OSCE PA Delegation Head Artur Gerasymov were among those who offered remarks.

Gernot Erler, Member of the Bundestag and the Special Representative of the Federal Government of Germany for the 2016 Chairmanship, also addressed parliamentarians gathered in Vienna, underscoring the particular value of dialogue in today’s context.

“The work of the Parliamentary Assembly and of the German OSCE Chairmanship can and should complement each other. Although we are facing deep rifts and conflicts in these times, we do not want and may not fall into speechlessness. As Chairmanship, we have the aim to help foster more understanding and encourage compromise in the OSCE area. These efforts are mirrored by the committed, sometimes also controversial struggle for best arguments between members of parliaments from all participating States gathered in the Parliamentary Assembly,” Erler said.

“We can also combine our possibilities and efforts in very concrete steps -- for example, when it comes to the Special Representatives of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and of the Chairperson-in-Office having exchanges on their specific issues and regions.”

Senior OSCE officials offering presentations and engaging with parliamentarians on the Meeting’s opening day included Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Michael Link; OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic; OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Madina Jarbussynova; Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities Halil Yurdakul Yigitguden; and others.

The Winter Meeting continues on Friday, 26 February with a meeting of the Committee on Political Affairs and Security, which will focus on combating terrorism.

The Winter Meeting will conclude with a special debate of the full Assembly on “The Migrant and Refugee Crisis in the OSCE Area: Strengthening the Collective Response.” Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, will offer introductory remarks.

Follow the live stream and access photos, videos and documents from the Winter Meeting at www.oscepa.org.