This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Catherine Lovrien from St. Olaf College.
This past Wednesday was an exciting day for the Peace Scholars – we met Jan Egeland! Mr. Egeland has a wealth of experience in international humanitarian affairs, having worked with Amnesty International Norway, the Norwegian Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch. We were especially excited to hear about Mr. Egeland’s time spent as the United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Aid and Emergency Relief Coordination from 2003 to 2006. Before arriving in Norway, we all received a copy of Mr. Egeland’s book A Billion Lives, which chronicles his experiences with the UN. Reading A Billion Lives and learning about Mr. Egeland’s work around the world made me really excited to hear more from him in person.
We met with Mr. Egeland at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), where he currently works as Secretary General. He began by sharing with us the mission and methods of the NRC. The NRC’s works for “rights respected and people protected” all across the world, and its programs focus on five critical areas: shelter, education, water and sanitation, food security, and information counseling and legal assistance. The NRC has 4200 aid workers in 30 countries. Of these 4200 aid workers, 3700 are local staff, which I think is extremely important for sustainable and, ideally, less imperialistic forms of support. Additionally, each year the NRC documents the number of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world, and Mr. Egeland highlighted the fact that this number increases yearly. Currently, 51.2 million people around the world are displaced from their homes, 17.9 million as refugees and 33.3 million as internally displaced persons.
Mr. Egeland also told us that NRC is encouraging the Norwegian government to accept more Syrian refugees. I think that, although all of the Peace Scholar participants come from different academic backgrounds, we all can make a positive impact on the way that our own governments treat immigrants and refugees. By raising our voices and working toward more just policies in our own countries, we can work alongside Mr. Egeland and the NRC and ensure that refugees are treated with compassion and fairness.