International Rescue Committee

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International Rescue Committee
International Rescue Committee (logo).png
Formation 1933
Type International NGO
President David Miliband

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a global humanitarian aid, relief and development nongovernmental organization. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and those displaced by war, persecution or natural disaster. The IRC is currently working in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities where it resettles refugees and helps them become self-sufficient.

Composed of first responders, humanitarian relief workers, international development experts, health care providers, and educators, the IRC has assisted millions of people around the world since its founding in 1933.



In 1933, the American branch of the European-based International Relief Association (IRA) was founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein, in order to assist Germans suffering under Adolf Hitler's government.

Later, refugees from Mussolini's Italy and Franco's Spain were assisted. In 1940, the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) was formed to aid European refugees trapped in Vichy France. Varian Fry was instrumental in helping many individuals escape Vichy and the Nazis to safety in the U.S. and elsewhere. Over 2,000 political, cultural, union and academic leaders were rescued in thirteen months.

In 1942, IRA and ERC joined forces under the name International Relief and Rescue Committee, which was later shortened to the International Rescue Committee.[1]


In 1945, at the end of World War II, the IRC initiated emergency relief programs, established hospitals and children’s centers, and started refugee resettlement efforts in Europe. With the descent of the Iron Curtain in 1946, the IRC initiated a resettlement program for East European refugees, which continued until the end of the Cold War.[1]


In 1950, the IRC intensified its aid in Europe with Project Berlin, which provided food to the people of West Berlin amid increased Soviet oppression.

Leo Cherne, an IRC board member since 1946, was elected IRC Chairman in 1951. He would hold the position for 40 years.

Also in the 1950s, the IRC began relief and resettlement programs for refugees displaced by the North Vietnamese defeat of the French and by Soviet forces’ crushing of the Hungarian revolution.[1]


In 1960, an IRC resettlement program began for Cuban refugees fleeing the Castro dictatorship and for Haitian refugees escaping the Duvalier regime.

IRC operations were extended to Africa in 1962 when 200,000 Angolans fled to Zaire. Also that year, the IRC began aiding Chinese fleeing to Hong Kong from the mainland.[1]


The IRC was active worldwide, providing support for refugees fleeing conflict and oppression in India, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Uganda and the Soviet Union, while resettling refugees in the United States.[1]


At the turn of the decade, the IRC launched emergency relief programs for Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan. Eight years later, the IRC started community rehabilitation activities in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of returning refugees.

During the 1982 war in Lebanon, the IRC assisted Palestinian and Lebanese refugees.

Spanish Refugee Aid, which served the survivors of the Spanish Civil War in France, became a division of the IRC in 1984. That same year, the IRC initiated health and community development projects in El Salvador for displaced victims of the civil war.

Partnering with the Polish trade union movement Solidarity in 1987, the IRC began a health-care program in Poland.

Relief programs to assist Mozambican refugees in Malawi also began in 1987. Eight years later, the IRC was in Mozambique helping with their return.

In 1989, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children was established by the IRC as an affiliate organization whose purpose is to serve the rights and interests of the 80% of the world’s refugees who are women and children. The Women’s Commission became the Women’s Refugee Commission in 2009.[1]


After the first Gulf War, the IRC came to the aid of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime. In 1992, the IRC began work in the former Yugoslavia, first dealing with the consequences of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and later launching community rehabilitation programs in Bosnia.

In 1994, the IRC set up emergency programs in Tanzania and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to aid refugees fleeing genocide and civil war in Rwanda.

IRC operations began inside Kosovo in 1997 and were expanded in 1999 to meet the needs of Kosovar refugees in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia. Also in 1997, the IRC opened a UK office.

In 1999, the IRC launched emergency operations in East Timor.[1]


In 2000, the IRC launched emergency shelter, sanitation and education programs for Chechen refugees fleeing fighting between Russian forces and separatist Chechen rebels.

Following the September 11 attacks, the IRC undertook an advocacy campaign to reverse the U.S. government's slowdown in refugee resettlement.[2]

The IRC responded to the war in Iraq by providing water and sanitation and health-care support from 2003 to 2005. In 2007, the IRC launched a campaign to aid and support displaced Iraqis.

In 2003, IRC programs in West Africa expanded to serve the growing populations of refugees and displaced persons uprooted by civil conflict.

In 2005, more than two decades after Burmese refugees first began crossing into Thailand, poverty and violent conflict in Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas continue to drive people into camps along the border. Currently the only option for refugees living in the camps to find a permanent home is resettlement in a third country. Since its opening in 2005, the Resettlement Support Center (formerly known as the Overseas Processing Entity) in the Thai capital Bangkok has assisted over 90,000 people seeking admission to the United States as refugees. The Resettlement Support Center primarily assists refugees in Thailand but also assists asylum seekers in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia. The activities of the center are funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.[3]

The IRC worked closely with local aid organizations to respond to various disasters, including in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake,[4] in Indonesia after the South Asian tsunami and in Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone.

In 2008, the IRC released the fifth in a series of groundbreaking surveys demonstrating the excess loss of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo caused by the nation’s long-running civil war. The fifth survey put the excess-death toll between August 1998 and April 2007 at 5.4 million.

IRC affiliate the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children became the Women's Refugee Commission in 2009.[5]

Current work[edit]

The IRC is now at work in more than 40 countries and in 22 U.S. cities. In 2010, notable operations included disaster response in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, ongoing programs to address the humanitarian crisis in Congo and to help community rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and advocacy and resettlement efforts on behalf of Iraqis uprooted by the war.


Following the earthquake in January 2010, the IRC deployed its Emergency Response Team to Haiti to deliver help to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince.[6] IRC experts in emergency health, shelter and children’s welfare are now working with local aid groups to assist survivors.[7] A particular focus is protecting women and children who were made even more vulnerable by the disaster, as well as ensuring women’s role in the recovery process.[8]


The IRC is one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance in Congo, where conflict and humanitarian crisis have taken the lives of 5.4 million people since 1998, according to peer-reviewed studies by the IRC. The organization runs programs dedicated to health, education, civil society development, emergency response and reducing gender-based violence, in seven Congolese provinces. As rape and other forms of sexual violence have increasingly been used as a tactic of war by militias involved in the conflict, the IRC has stepped up its sexual violence aid and protection programs. Since 2002, the IRC has provided medical care, counseling and economic support services to over 40,000 women and girls who have survived sexual violence in Congo.[9]


The IRC conducted operations across Iraq from April 2003 through December 2004. The organization resumed operations there in 2007, and is now expanding programs throughout the country. In addition to aiding displaced Iraqis within the country, the IRC is also providing assistance to Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, as well as to those granted refuge in the United States.[10]


The IRC delivers a number of services, including emergency response, health care, programs fighting gender-based violence, post-conflict development projects, children and youth protection and education programs, water and sanitation systems, strengthening the capacity of local organizations, and supporting civil society and good-governance initiatives.

For refugees afforded sanctuary in the United States, IRC resettlement offices[11] across the country provide a range of assistance aimed at helping new arrivals settling, adjusting and acquiring the skills to become self-sufficient.

The IRC also engages in advocacy efforts on behalf of the oppressed and displaced, and its annual Freedom Award recognizes “extraordinary contributions to the cause of refugees and human freedom."

The IRC is currently spearheading a campaign urging the United States to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which is now before Congress.[12] The organization is also advocating for the United States to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;[13] 193 nations have signed this UN convention. The only other non-signer, Somalia, has announced plans to ratify the convention soon.[14]

Emergency response[edit]

The IRC maintains an Emergency Response Team of 17 specialists who assess survival needs and mount responses to sudden or protracted emergencies.

The team includes coordinators, logisticians, doctors, and water and sanitation experts. It also includes specialists who focus on human rights protection, the special needs of children in crisis, the prevention of sexual violence, and aid for rape survivors.

Emergency Response Team members remain on standby to deploy to a crisis within 72 hours, whether they are launching new relief efforts or lending support to IRC teams already on the ground. Equipment and supplies are pre-positioned in key transport hubs so that the materials can be dispatched anywhere in the world on short notice. The IRC also maintains a kit with inventory necessary for the startup of an emergency program in a remote location, as well as a roster of IRC employees and qualified external personnel who are available on short notice for emergency deployment.

Recent IRC Emergency Response Team deployments include Darfur,[15] Indonesia after the South Asian tsunami, Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone, and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Health programs[edit]

During emergencies, the IRC endeavors to rapidly reduce illness and death rates to normal levels. When the conflict subsides, the IRC works with displaced individuals and communities to rebuild their health systems.

IRC health programs assist approximately 13 million people in 25 countries, focusing on primary health care, reproductive health care, environmental health, child survival, blindness treatment and prevention, and assistance for victims of sexual violence.

The IRC works in various settings such as in refugee camps, in disaster-stricken areas and in host countries where refugees have resettled after a conflict.

Gender-based anti-violence programs[edit]

Gender-based violence is any harm perpetrated against a person based on power inequalities resulting from gender roles. The overwhelming majority of cases involve women and girls. The IRC’s gender-based anti-violence programs aim to meet the safety, health, psychosocial and justice needs of women and girls who are survivors of or vulnerable to gender-based violence. In partnership with communities and institutions, the IRC works to empower communities to lead efforts that challenge beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that perpetuate or condone violence against women and girls.

IRC programs implement and support social work services to help individual survivors of gender-based violence, economic empowerment activities to support survivors of violence and women and girls at-risk of violence,[16] community education and mobilization projects around gender-based violence, training and capacity-building for NGOs and governments, coordination of humanitarian services, and advocacy efforts to advance laws preventing violence against women, and the enforcement of policies ensuring survivors’ access to care and legal justice.

Post-conflict development[edit]

The IRC assists with post-conflict recovery by supporting conflict-impacted communities and countries in their transition to sustainable peace and development.

In addition to the provision of humanitarian assistance, IRC post-conflict development projects aim to restore and strengthen physical and social institutions, as well as rebuild and restore social cohesion.

Program areas include social programs emphasizing rebuilding the health, public infrastructure and education sectors; gender-based violence programs; economic recovery and development programs; and governance programs that support civil society, enhance protection and the rule of law, and rebuild ties between governments and their constituencies.

Programs for children[edit]

The IRC promotes the protection and development of children and youth from the early stages of an emergency through post-conflict and recovery. Its children's and youth programs include emergency care;[17] formal and non-formal education; rehabilitation and community reintegration of former child soldiers; psychosocial care and protection; life skills training, recreational and cultural activities; and economic and leadership development for youth.

Resettling refugees[edit]

The IRC’s 22 regional offices help to resettle newly arrived refugees in the U.S. and provide various services to refugees, asylees and victims of human trafficking.

Resettlement services include providing immediate aid, including food and shelter; assisting with job placement and employment skills; and giving access to clothing, medical attention, education, English-language classes and community orientation.

In addition to integrating refugees into the U.S., the IRC also provides immigration services to refugees and people who have been granted asylum, as well as specialized services to victims of human trafficking in the U.S.


The IRC seeks to focus the attention of policy makers on humanitarian crises and the needs of refugees, internally displaced people and other victims of conflict.


The current president and CEO of the IRC is David Miliband, formerly British Foreign Secretary.

Until September 2013, the previous president was George Erik Rupp, who had formerly been the president of Columbia University and Rice University. It had been announced on 27 March 2013 that Miliband would succeed Rupp in September 2013. [18]

The organization is governed by a volunteer unpaid board of directors. A companion body, the IRC overseers, provides counsel to the board on matters of policy, fundraising and advocacy.

The IRC has some high-profile people among its overseers, including Madeleine Albright, Kofi Annan, Tom Brokaw, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Liv Ullmann and Elie Wiesel.[19]

In addition to its New York headquarters, the IRC also has European headquarters in London, Geneva and Brussels.

As of March 2010, the IRC had over 8,000 staff members.[20]

The IRC has been awarded high marks by charity watchdog groups and major publications for the efficient use of its financial support and the effectiveness of its work. The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the IRC an A+ rating;[21] the Forbes Investment Guide named the IRC one of 10 gold star charities,[22] and in its 2009 review of American charities, Forbes magazine gave the IRC high ratings for program and fundraising efficiency;[23] Charity Navigator gives the IRC its top rating of four stars;[24] and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance reports that the IRC meets all of its 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.[25]


  • The IRC issued a report in 2008 detailing the plight of Iraqi refugees on the five-year anniversary of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.[26]
  • The next year, the organization followed up with a report on the plight of Iraqi refugees in the United States. The report argued that while “resettlement continues to be a critical and lifesaving intervention for thousands of at-risk Iraqi refugees who are living in precarious conditions in exile and unable to return home safely…the federal program no longer meets the basic needs of today’s newly arriving refugees and requires urgent reform.”[27]
  • In 2010, the IRC’s Commission on Iraqi Refugees issued a third report on displaced Iraqis entitled, “A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq.” The report asserted that Iraqis are trapped in poverty and uncertainty and their needs are growing more acute, even as international attention and assistance wanes. The IRC’s recommendations included increasing aid for the displaced, intensifying efforts to create conditions that would enable people to go home safely and accelerating resettlement for those who can’t go back.[28]
  • In a series of five ground-breaking mortality surveys between 2000 and 2007, the IRC documented the devastating impact of the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most recent report estimated that 5.4 million people had died from conflict-related causes in Congo since 1998, and 2.1 million of those deaths occurred after the formal end of the war in 2002.[29] These statistics are often cited by media and nongovernmental agencies reporting on the humanitarian crisis in Congo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g IRC | History of the International Rescue Committee
  2. ^ “Inhuman Rights Immigration Bill”, Daily News, 16 March 2006
  3. ^
  4. ^ “On the Ground: South Asia Quake – Six Days Later”, Reuters Alertnet, 13 October 2005
  5. ^ IRC | History of the International Rescue Committee
  6. ^ “Giving Donations That Transform Haiti”, CBS News, 24 February 2010
  7. ^ IRC | "Crisis in Haiti"
  8. ^ “A Better Future for Haitian Women”, Huffington Post, 9 March 2010
  9. ^ IRC | "Congo: Forgotten Crisis"
  10. ^ "Special Report: Iraqi Refugees", IRC, retrieved 18 March 2010
  11. ^ IRC | "The IRC in the United States”
  12. ^ IRC | "Stop Violence Against Women"
  13. ^ IRC | "Urge President Obama To Take Action on Children's Rights"
  14. ^ “Somalia to Join Child Rights Pact: UN", Reuters, 20 November 2009.
  15. ^ IRC | Sudan
  16. ^ “Ending Violence Against Women”, ONE blog, 7 December 2009
  17. ^ “Aid World Launches Standards for Crisis Education” Reuters, 8 December 2004
  18. ^
  19. ^ IRC | Board of Directors and Overseers
  20. ^ IRC | IRC Careers
  21. ^ "Top Rated Charities", American Institute of Philanthropy, retrieved 18 March 2010
  22. ^ “Genuinely Needy: Our Annual Survey of 200 Large Charities Picks Ten That Shine”, Forbes, 8 December 2003
  23. ^ "International Rescue Committee", Forbes, retrieved 18 March 2010
  24. ^ "International Rescue Committee", Charity Navigator, retrieved 18 March 2010
  25. ^ "International Rescue Committee", Better Business Bureau, retrieved 18 March 2010
  26. ^ Report: World ignoring Iraqi refugee crisis , CNN, 20 March 2008
  27. ^ “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits", IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010
  28. ^ "Iraqi Refugees: A Tough Road Home", IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010
  29. ^ “Congo Mortality Survey”, IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010

External links[edit]