Norwegian council fights for refugees
Washington Lakselaget members learn about efforts to help those fleeing conflicts
Christine Foster Meloni
Joel R. Charny, Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA, recently made an impassioned presentation to the members of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Lakselaget. After giving a brief history of the council, he explained why the organization is of vital importance in the world today.
He emphasized that the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is one of the great organizations in the humanitarian sector today. It was started in Norway shortly after the end of World War II, with a focus mainly on Europe. That it has become one of the largest international organizations in the world dealing with refugees is remarkable. It is now a truly international organization with strong Norwegian roots, headed by Norwegian Jan Egeland, its secretary general. It has staff all over the world.
Charny became the U.S. director of the Oslo-based Refugee Council in March 2016 with his office in Washington, D.C. He focuses on fundraising and humanitarian advocacy in the United States.
Current refugee crisis
Charny emphasized the seriousness of the current refugee crisis. Sixty-five million people have become displaced due to conflict in the last few years. This is the largest displacement of people in the world since WWII.
He said that these 65 million refugees can be divided into two categories. Twenty-two million meet the definition of refugees, that is, people who have crossed an internationally recognized border and who have the right to protection in their country of asylum. The remaining 43 million are people who have been internally displaced and are unable to cross an international border.
Work of the NRC
The European Union is the NRC’s largest contributor. Norway is the second largest, providing 20 percent of the NRC budget.
The NRC is working in 31 countries. Its dual purpose is to help meet the immediate needs of refugees, such as camp management, food assistance, clean water, shelter, legal aid, and education, and to help them eventually resettle where they have come from. It aims to get involved in the most difficult situations in the world. Today, Yemen, Syria, and northern Nigeria are particularly difficult, and their neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Lebanon are suffering the consequences. Lebanon, in particular, has taken in half of the refugees and is under great strain.
The NRC does not help those displaced by natural disasters.
The NRC in the USA
Four people work in the office in Washington, D.C. This office focuses on raising funds from the U.S. government. Five to seven percent of NRC funding comes from the United States. Charny considers this an ideal percentage. The funding is immensely diversified. Having many funding sources is definitely positive.
When asked what individuals in the U.S. can do to support the council’s work, Charny replied, “Think globally and act locally.” He suggests that we help in two ways: (1) by defending our refugee community in the U.S. and (2) by making donations to the NRC.
For more information or to make a donation, visit the Norwegian Refugee Council USA website at www.nrc.no/usa.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.