Norwegian Refugee Council - History


-1970, Angola: through the Special Committee for Refugees from Southern Africa in 1970, NRC gives a grant to a seminar organised by UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola), one of the armed faction that fights against Portuguese colonisation (and, later on, the Marxist regime in power after independence in 1975). This decision can be explained by the institutional relationship of the Special Committee with the International University Exchange Fund. Several UNITA leaders, including Jonas Savimbi, first belonged to the FNLA (Frente Nacional para a Libertação de Angola), an affiliate to the International Students Conference whose offshoot was the International University Exchange Fund and whose involvement with the American CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was exposed in 1967. Hence they had close links to the International University Exchange Fund’s executive director from 1961 until 1966, Øystein Opdahl, who is also the Norwegian Special Committee’s secretary in the period 1967-1972.
-1972, Uganda: NRC helps to resettle some Indians expelled by Idi Amin Dada. These are amongst the first non-European refugees to be dealt with by the organisation in Norway.
-From 1973, Chile: with help from the Norwegian ambassador in Santiago, Frode Nilsen, NRC resettles refugees after the coup of General Augusto Pinochet and the fall of socialist President Salvador Allende. Highly politicised, these exiles criticise the way they are accommodated in Norway. Hence the ministry of Social Affairs asks the government to take care directly of refugees, instead of relying on NRC.
-1974, Norway: under the patronage of King Olav V and Princess Sonja, the first television fund-raising event organised in the country enables NRC to raise its income and to extend its operations in the Third-World.
-1975-1993, Vietnam: until 1981, NRC facilitates the reception of boat people who flee the Communist regime in Hanoi. Some of them are given a refugee status as soon as they are picked up by Norwegian boats. Thereafter, NRC opens an office in Hanoi in 1991 to repatriate some Vietnamese until 1993, when it leaves NCA to follow through development projects.
-1976, Namibia: through the Special Committee for Refugees from Southern Africa, NRC approves a grant for SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation), which fights for independence and against White South African domination in Namibia. Such a programme is clearly political. Hifikepunye Pohamba, a SWAPO Secretary of Finance and National Treasurer quoted by Tor Sellström, explains that the Norwegians “told us: we are assisting you on a humanitarian basis and we do not want to give anything that could promote the military struggle… However, when they gave us food, it went to the camps and the camps were also the reserves of the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia) cadres. It would therefore not be wrong to say that the people of the Nordic world also assisted PLAN”. If Norway did not give guns, it fed, educated, clothed and gave shelter to the fighters. As stated in the same book by another prominent SWAPO leader, Peter Katjavivi, “being in a refugee camp… was an opportunity to regroup and acquire the necessary skills and competence while we were in exile. It became a training camp”.
-1978-1981, Norway: in 1978, NRC’s board goes from six to eight members, one for the Ministry of Social Affairs, two for small NGOs and five for the big ones (NCA, NPA, Save the Children, the Red Cross and the Norwegian Women Organisation for Health). Members are elected for three years while representatives from the ministries of Justice and Work (as well as Foreign Affairs after 1982) can participate to the meetings as observers. In 1978, NRC also creates a Social Affairs Committee to deal with the growing number of asylum seekers in Norway, 1,000 in 1979 as against 100 in 1970. Yet this reorganisation does not put an end to internal conflicts with the International Department. Social Affairs complain that they have only one representative from their Ministry in NRC’s board, while the executive is dominated by the Overseas section. Hence, Ruth Ryste, a former minister of Social Affairs, is the organisation’s general-secretary for only one year after Wilhelm Sundt Bøe. She leaves the room as soon as January 1981 to Eva Dunlop, who is closer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The division of the two sections will become official with the reform of the status of NRC in 1982.
-From 1979, Thailand: NRC starts to help Cambodian refugees who escaped the Red Khmer regime of Pol Pot after 1975 and the invading Vietnamese Army in 1979. In the camps, the organisation finances the construction of wells, health posts and schools; flour distribution is taken over by the World Food Programme in 1981. NRC also facilitates the repatriation of refugees from Laos.