Norway’s ambassador to Sri Lanka has been called in for an apparent scolding by Sri Lankan authorities in Colombo, after Norwegian officials helped 12 persons leave the country and start new lives in Norway. Opposition politicians in Norway are upset as well.
The latest diplomatic conflict between Norway and Sri Lanka arose after newspaper Aftenposten reported late last week that Norwegian authorities had secretly bought airline tickets and arranged asylum in Norway for around a dozen persons they believed were in danger in Sri Lanka.
Even though the bloody civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, best known as the Tamil Tigers, ended two years ago, serious conflicts are far from over. Many people remain jailed despite a lack of legal trials or convictions, while others have disappeared or reportedly live in hiding and in fear of the government, because of the roles they played during the civil war. Norway had tried to help settle the war that raged for nearly three decades and left an estimated 100,000. The UN’s special envoy and peace broker to Sri Lanka was, at one point, Erik Solheim, now a government minister for foreign aid and the environment in Norway.
Aftenposten reported that Norwegian officials, some working at the Norwegian embassy in Colombo, have helped around 12 of those believed to be danger to get out of Sri Lanka. In some cases the Norwegians have accompanied those feeling persecuted to the airport, in other cases acquired airline tickets and visas to help those already out of Sri Lanka to get to Norway. In at least one case, a doctor who served in the war zone and was under pressure from both the government and the LTTE made it to Thailand, where the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok helped him get to Norway where he was granted asylum. He’s now living and working in Bergen.
“Norway has a long tradition of helping people who are in danger,” Solheim told Aftenposten. “Sometimes we go a bit a further. In this case, we’ve had a role during the peace process and believe we therefore have a humanitarian duty to help.”
The Sri Lankan government and Norwegian opposition politicians, however, are highly critical. Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of Norway’s Conservative party claims that Norway seems to have played “nearly an activist” role in the asylum cases. Søreide, who leads the Parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee, hadn’t been aware of the help offered by staff within Norway’s foreign ministry, and called it “quite unusual.” She also worried about what it can mean for Norway’s relations with Sri Lanka.
On Wednesday, Aftenposten reported that the Sri Lankans were none too pleased either and are demanding an investigation. Norway’s ambassador, Hilde Haraldstad, was called in for a meeting on Monday at Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry, at which Haraldstad reportedly described Norway’s “humanitarian tradition” of helping refugees. Another 25 persons in Sri Lanka have reportedly sought help from the Norwegians in addition to the 12 already in Norway.
Iver B Neumann of the foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo said Norway’s efforts may have violated international politics and offended Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. “Sri Lanka has to be angry over this,” he told Aftenposten. “And they have all reason to be so.”