Norwegian Refugee Council - Comments
5) Links to politics
-Like its equivalent in Copenhagen, the Danish Refugee Council, with whom it often works, NRC is very close to the Norwegian authorities, i.e. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Co-operation Agency NORAD and the Immigration Department. For instance, the organisation’s chairman between 1987 and 1990, Rudolf Andresen, was the director of NORAD from 1968 to 1975, before he got posted as Ambassador to Kenya. As for Raymond Johansen, NRC’s general-secretary after Steinar Sørlie in September 2002 and before Tomas Colin Archer in January 2006, he is a former State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the Socialist Party. He resigns in October 2005, the same day he is appointed State Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unlike NGOs like Doctors without Borders, such connections do not seem to disturb the organisation. According to Hege Roll-Hansen and Eva Helene Østbye, who wrote the official history of NRC, the “Norwegian models shows that it is possible for an NGO to cooperate with the government and not jeopardize its integrity”.
-In Norway, NRC thus counsels asylum seekers who wish to return to their home country. Abroad, it can rely on the backing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to intervene in war-torn countries which are often neglected by the international community because their strategic value is less relevant than others: i.e. Angola in 2002 or Liberia in 2003, as against Afghanistan or Iraq. In a way, the activism of Oslo diplomats compensates the extreme dependency of NRC on public funding. Furthermore, close links with the Norwegian Government do not refrain the organisation from criticising the authorities. After the September 11 2001 attacks in New York, for example, NRC worried publicly about the consequences of new anti-terrorist legislation for asylum rights. In the same vein, NRC gives aid regardless of political affiliations. In the 1960s, the organisation helped both refugees fleeing Communist countries or colonial regimes: the Tibetans in Nepal and India or the Chinese in Hong-Kong and Macao, on one side; the Algerians in Tunisia or the South-Africans in Tanzania, on the other side. In the 1970s, again, it resettled “leftist” Chilean refugees as well as “conservative” Vietnamese boat people.
-In the same way, NRC does not want to be seen as rightist or leftist. Because its general secretary Raymond Johansen was socialist, it thus invited in Uganda the conservative politician Siv Jensen, head of the ultra-liberal FrP (Framstegspartiet), which supported the American invasion of Irak in March 2003 and became the largest opposition party in Norway after the September 2005 parliamentary elections.