Norwegian Refugee Council - History


-1960, Norway: following Knut Okkenhaug (1953-1956) and Arne Fjellbu (1956-1960), Wilhelm Sundt Bøe becomes the general secretary of NRC for the next twenty years, until 1980. Under his direction, the organisation tries to reduce its dependency on grants from the ministry of Social Affairs and develops its fundraising capacity by launching advertisement campaigns in 1964 and 1967. After the United Nations’ Year of the Refugee in 1959, NRC also gets international and starts to work with the Foreign Office as the needs and the number of asylum seekers in Norway are decreasing in the 1960s.
-1962, Algeria: for the first time, NRC intervenes in the context of a colonial war, providing blankets for refugees on the point of returning to their home country after independence.
-1963-1982, South Africa: with Caritas-Oslo, NRC supports in 1963 the creation of a Crisis Fund for South Africa (Krisefondet for Sør-Africa), the Norwegian branch of an International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) which was launched by Christian Aid in London in 1953 to assist families of political prisoners against apartheid, especially members of the ANC (African National Congress). Dissolved and merged with Norwegian Action against Apartheid (Norsk Aksjon mot Apartheid), this Fund will form in 1968 the Norwegian Council for Southern Africa (Fellesrådet for det sørlige Africa), receive grants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and campaign for economic sanctions and boycotts against Pretoria. Meanwhile, a Special Committee for Refugees from Southern Africa plays the key role in channelling official funds, until it closes when assistance to refugees is integrated into the regular activities of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982. NRC serves as its secretariat and provides its only chairman, Sigurd Halvorsen. Unlike its equivalents in Denmark and Sweden, the Special Committee focuses on humanitarian programmes only, mainly education, and never handles direct support to liberation movements, strictly a domain of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet there are a few exceptions regarding Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. In 1972, the Special Committee pays the expenses of an ANC delegation led by Oliver Tambo and visiting Oslo. In 1975, it gives a grant to the Luthuli Memorial Fund of South Africa, which was set up by the National Executive Committee of the ANC in Addis Ababa in 1970. According to an ANC leaflet quoted by Tore Linné Eriksen, “the humanitarian aid programmes of the Fund are directly related to the liberation struggle of our people… Consequently, support for these programmes is support for our freedom struggle”. Moreover, the Norwegian Parliament decides in February 1973 and July 1977 to grand direct humanitarian and material assistance to liberation movements in Southern Africa. In 1976, again, the Special Committee backs the ANC’s Women Section for refugees in Zambia. Several testimonies in Tor Sellström’s book show how political this aid is. According to Garth Strachan, a Communist member of the ANC’s armed wing MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe), “the only form of support that to the best of my knowledge was not given was literally the military hardware itself. But without all the other elements, the armed struggle would not have been possible anyway. As ANC itself always said, the political and the mass struggle as well as the international struggle was more important”. Lindiwe Mabuza, the ANC Chief Representative to Sweden and the Nordic countries, also explains: “everyday we had contributions coming in to the ANC fund without any tags attached. Individuals and organisations were saying ‘use the money as you see fit’. If we decided to buy guns or whatever the military wanted —which we did by the way— no government actually stopped the unmarked contributions, and it was assumed that if they were unmarked, ANC reserved the right to use them as it saw fit. These contributions came from all sectors of the Nordic societies: from political parties, trade unions, church organisations… They were there and without any conditions. I know, because we also had to make certain procurements in the Nordic countries related to the military, using these funds”.
-1964, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland: through the Special Committee for Refugees from Southern Africa, NRC gives scholarships and sponsors secondary schools that cater for South African students who escaped the apartheid regime.
-1966, Nepal: the Norwegian government, which does not want to compromise its diplomatic relationship with Beijing, opposes NRC for running since 1963 programmes to help refugees who fled the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese Red Army in 1950 and 1959.
-1967, Israel/Palestine: after the Six Days’ War, NRC sends relief to the Palestinian refugees through NCA and the Norwegian sections of the Red Cross and Save the Children. In the camp of Baqa’a in Jordan, it builds a clinic which is hander over to the United Nation agency for Palestinian refugees in 1974.
-1969-1971, Tanzania: through the Special Committee for Refugees from Southern Africa in 1969 and 1971, NRC gives two grants to the Mozambique Institute, which was established in 1963 in Dar es Salaam by Eduardo Mondlane, the leader of FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Mozambique). Under the aegis of the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, this Institute aims to train the cadres of the liberation movement, which launched armed struggle against Portuguese colonisation in September 1964. Initially backed by the Ford Foundation, which had to stop its funding due to pressures from Lisbon and Washington, the Mozambique Institute had opened its first school in Kurasini near Dar es Salaam in September 1964. But internal fighting within FRELIMO and the assassination of Eduardo Mondlane in February 1969 compelled it to close its educational facilities in May 1968 and open another secondary school in Bagamoyo in October 1970. In January 1968, students had gone on strike because they refused to join the guerrilla. As a matter of fact, FRELIMO does not separate between humanitarian assistance and armed struggle. It is because of the insistence by many donors that the liberation movement chooses to run the Institute’s education and health activities as an independent unit.