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Jan Egeland has been an outspoken advocate for more aid to Syrian civilians. As the new Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council he is heading straight to the region.
“I wanted to return to operational work”, says Egeland, about why he has accepted the position the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“NRC is known to be an effective organization. I frequently came across NRC in my previous work, and the organization was always described in a positive light. People often told me that they were impressed by NRC’s work”, he adds.
"Efficiency" will be a key word for Egeland’s tenure at NRC. The new Secretary General will work to ensure that the organization can deliver assistance to people displaced by wars and conflicts worldwide more effectively and efficiently than ever.
“I hope to build on the solid foundation established by former Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson. She has managed to make NRC one of the strongest organizations of its kind”, acknowledges her successor.
Egeland is known as an outspoken advocate for the right to humanitarian assistance. As the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, he pressured wealthy countries to provide sufficient aid to poor nations. As director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) he led the work on the UN report “To stay and deliver”, an analysis of how humanitarian organizations can maintain effective operations in contexts characterized by high security risks. In his previous position as Europe Director of Human Rights Watch, he visited the war-torn Aleppo in Syria, advocating strongly for more humanitarian assistance to millions of Syrian civilians in need.
“Few people understand the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. The international community’s failure to deliver more and better aid inside Syria, and the insufficient political pressure on the parties to the conflict are things we will come to regret in the future”, says Egeland.
The Syria crisis is the biggest crisis since the Millennium, according to the new Secretary General. Helping Syrians displaced by the war will be a top priority and Egeland's first trip as Secretary General goes to Syria's neighbouring countries.
“The humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and Colombia has not changed. There is still a need for assistance to these areas. However, there is no other place where so many people lack protection, and where so many basic needs go utterly unaddressed as in Syria and its neighboring countries. It is therefore an obvious choice for my first trip”, he explains.
Saving more lives
At the age of 19, Egeland had his first encounter with aid work, when he volunteered for a local charity in Colombia. In 1989 he became Head of the International Programs Department at the Norwegian Red Cross, an organization he later returned to as Secretary General.
“There is no doubt that the humanitarians have become more effective and efficient. It is amazing how good humanitarian organizations have become at saving lives and provide relief. Survival has improved dramatically, both after natural disasters and in armed conflict. But we are still struggling to find lasting solutions”, says Egeland
He believes there is a lack of long-term thinking among humanitarian actors.
“How can we ensure that what we do now builds on what we did last year, and the next thing we do help people get out of an emergency situation? We have become experts at managing crises, but we feel too little responsibility for supporting solutions”.
The new Secretary General is aware of the great responsibility he has taken on. As the head of Norway´s largest humanitarian organization, Egeland will lead NRC’s work in more than 20 humanitarian emergencies worldwide.
“In Humanitarian operations, bad work and poor decisions are not measured in sour milk, but in human suffering and lives lost”, he says.
At the same time the opportunity to have a large, positive impact is what makes him excited about the job.
“If we deliver effective assistance, we can measure our efforts in reduce suffering and lives saved. It is therefore a tremendous privilege to work in this field”.
About Jan Egeland
- NRC’s Secretary General from 12 August 2013.
- Born in Stavanger, Norway, 1957.
- Married to Anne Kristin Sydnes and has two children.
- Master Degree in Political Science from the University of Oslo. He also studied at the University of California.
- Egeland has worked as a journalist for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation
- Vice President (1988-1989), Head of International Program Department (1989-1990) and Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross (2002-2003),
- Political Advisor (1990-1992) and Secretary of State (1992-1997) within the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (2007-2011)
- Europe Director of Human Rights Watch (2011-1013).
- From 2003-2006 he served as UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
- In 2006 Egeland was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.
- In 2008 he published the book "A Billion Lives"