Norwegian parish priest quits job to help refugees


Northern Europe


From the left: Iselin Versto Vold, with equipment to be delivered in Poland. Hjartdal deacon Torill Solli Haugen and the coordinater and former parish priest Rune Lia. Photo Notodden Kirke

A Lutheran parish priest from Norway has quit his job to help refugees. However, the Norwegian government is not fully supportive of his work.

Rune Lia was a parish priest until last Sunday, when he submitted his resignation. Lia has been travelling back and forth from Norway to Poland for a couple of weeks now. The trips, however, took up too much time. “I had to resign to be able to work on this project”, Lia says. “But it is in full agreement with the dean.

In his resignation letter, which can be read in the Norwegian daily local newspaper Telen, Lia lashes out against the Norwegian government: “If the Norwegian authorities were to start a large-scale refugee evacuation from Poland, this letter would lapse. If they do not, this termination is valid on my part.”

Lia also states that he is applying for an exemption and, at the same time, that he intends to apply for the position as parish priest again “as soon as it is advertised”.


The frustration with the Norwegian government sits deep with Lia. Officially, only the refugees who have had the opportunity to obtain a so-called biometric passport can enter Norway legally. However, many refugees did not have the means to afford such a passport. Since 2015, Ukraine has distributed these biometric passports. It is a traditional passport but also has an embedded chip in it, which contains biometric information about the owner of the passport.

The Norwegian immigration directorate stated earlier that “even if the intention is good, the transport of people without the correct documents for legal entry can be counted as human trafficking, which is punishable.” According to the Norwegian Immigration Act, people could be punished with a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years.

The Norwegian Justice minister Emilie Enger Mehl called on people who plan to go to Poland not to go. Photo AFP, John Thys

Lia took a strong stand against these statements. “What we do is prevent human trafficking because then the market will be smaller for those who try to fish with people on the wrong terms”, Lia says to the Christian Norwegian daily Vårt Land. We have full control over who is involved, and we will deliver the list of passport numbers to the authorities when we return home.”

Instead, Lia wants the authorities to help them get refugees to Norway. “It is our ambition that the government would join forces with us. We now do the transport that the authorities themselves should do, and we do it because the authorities do not.”

Earlier, the Norwegian Justice minister Emilie Enger Mehl called on people who plan to go to Poland not to go. “If people have such plans, I would advise them to cancel.” In response, the Christian democratic party KrF said that it supported the volunteers. Justice minister Mehl responded by saying that the KrF has a “naive approach to this. We need to have a responsible approach to the crisis and dialogue with other countries.”


Regardless of politics, former parish priest Lia is still going to Poland. With help. “We are a group of idealists of all ages who do this as a charity”, Lia says to Vårt Land. In total, there are four buses on their way to Poland. “We have a twofold purpose: We bring equipment we know is needed, and then we take refugees back with us”, Lia says.

Onboard the buses are, among others, doctors, nurses and interpreters. In addition to the four buses, there are also two accompanying cars that have two drivers in each car for flexibility. According to Lia, it is very reassuring to have qualified personnel. “The refugees need warm hands, wise heads and knowledgeable people.” According to Lia, the doctors on the bus are there to help on the bus, but also to be able to assess whether someone is fit to travel.

Photo AFP, Wojtek Radwanski

The buses are on their way to Krakow and plan to pick up refugees on Wednesday. “It seems that it is most critical in Krakow right now, which we hear is full of people lying on the ground”, Lia says.

According to Lia, the previous trips were very quiet. “The refugees are in a warm and safe bus. They get food and water if they need it, and they can rest and sleep. The kids are actually very quiet.”

The first trips originated from the Notodden parish, around 100 miles southwest of Oslo. However, the commitment has spread. “Our foundation will be nationwide, and we want to set up bus tours from around Norway. Congregations, teams or organisations that want to help just need to contact us”, says Lia.



Subscribe for an update, and receive a documentary and e-book for free.

Choose your subscriptions*

You may subscribe to multiple lists.