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Our history

  • "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."

    "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."
  • Over the years, we have continued to respond to the needs of people escaping conflict and disaster in coutries around the world.

    Over the years, we have continued to respond to the needs of people escaping conflict and disaster in coutries around the world.
  • Over the years, the IRC has restored hope and opportunity to many millions of people.

    Over the years, the IRC has restored hope and opportunity to many millions of people.
  • With nearly 80 years of experience, the IRC sets high standards for protecting children.

    With nearly 80 years of experience, the IRC sets high standards for protecting children.
  • The IRC has responded to numerous crises and emergencies throughout its history.

    The IRC has responded to numerous crises and emergencies throughout its history.
  • The IRC works in Asia, Middle East, Africa and the Carribbean.

    The IRC works in Asia, Middle East, Africa and the Carribbean.
"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing." Albert Einstein

 

The International Rescue Committee was founded in 1933, at the suggestion of Albert Einstein, to rescue German families fleeing Nazi persecution. Over the years, we have continued to respond to the needs of people escaping conflict and disaster in countries around the world, including Vietnam, Pakistan, Uganda, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Today, with over 80 years of experience, the IRC sets high standards for delivering emergency aid, protecting children, providing health care, preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, safeguarding human rights, and kick-starting economic recovery.

Over the years, the IRC has restored hope and opportunity to many millions of people.


1933  The American branch of the European-based International Relief Association (IRA) is founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein to assist Germans suffering under Hitler. Refugees from Mussolini's Italy and Franco's Spain are later assisted.

1940  The Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) is formed to aid European refugees trapped in Vichy France. Over 2,000 political, cultural, union and academic leaders are rescued in 13 months.

1942  IRA and ERC join forces under the name International Relief and Rescue Committee, later shortened to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

1945  At the end of World War II, the IRC initiates emergency relief programmes, establishes hospitals and children's centres and starts refugee resettlement efforts in Europe. With the descent of the Iron Curtain in 1946, the IRC initiates a resettlement programme for East European refugees, which continues until the end of the Cold War.

1950  The IRC intensifies its aid in Europe with Project Berlin, providing food to the people of West Berlin amid increased Soviet oppression.

1951  Leo Cherne, a board member since 1946, is elected IRC Chairman, a position he holds for 40 years.

1954  In South Vietnam, the IRC begins a programme to aid one million refugees following defeat of the French by the North Vietnamese.  The programme develops into a vast, long-range relief and resettlement effort for Indochinese refugees: Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.

1956  The IRC starts resettlement and relief programmes for Hungarian refugees after the revolution is crushed by Soviet forces.

1960  An IRC resettlement programme begins for Cuban refugees fleeing the Castro dictatorship and for Haitian refugees escaping the Duvalier regime.

1962  IRC operations are extended to Africa when 200,000 Angolans flee to Zaire. The IRC also begins aid to Chinese fleeing to Hong Kong from the mainland.

1971  The IRC provides extensive support, especially medical, health, childcare and schooling, for the 10 million East Pakistani refugees fleeing to India.  The work continues as the refugees return to their new nation of Bangladesh.

The IRC takes a leading role in the resettlement of Asian nationals persecuted and expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin.

1975  Chilean refugees are assisted by the IRC in their efforts to win asylum in the US. The IRC also helps refugees from Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala.

1976  The IRC begins emergency relief, medical, educational and self-help programmes for Indochinese refugees fleeing to Thailand, later to include thousands from Burma.

1977  IRC President Leo Cherne organises the Citizens Commission on Indochinese Refugees, comprising a cross-section of America's political, cultural and religious leaders. The Commission conducted many trips to Southeast Asia and for years served as the leading advocate for people fleeing from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

1979  The departure of refugees from the Soviet Union – mostly dissidents, Armenians and Jews – reaches a peak of 53,000. Thousands are resettled by the IRC.

1980  The IRC launches emergency relief programmes for Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan, leading to long-term health, education, self-reliance and job training programmes.

1982  The IRC assists Palestinian and Lebanese refugees uprooted by the war in Lebanon.

1984  In El Salvador, the IRC initiates a broad range of health, childcare and community development projects for displaced victims of civil war.

Spanish Refugee Aid becomes a division of the IRC, serving the survivors of the Spanish Civil War in France.

1987  The IRC begins health care programme in Poland, in partnership with the Polish trade union movement, Solidarity.

The IRC responds to refugee flows of Mozambicans to Malawi – soon to exceed one million – by initiating relief programmes. Eight years later, the IRC assists the returning refugees inside Mozambique.

1988  The IRC starts community rehabilitation activities in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees returning home from Pakistan.

1989  The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children is established by the IRC to serve the rights and interests of 80% of the world's refugees: women and children.

1991  The IRC launches emergency health and healthcare training programnmes in Sudan serving some 250,000 displaced people in Bhar El Ghazal and the Upper Nile states.

1992  The IRC begins work in the former Yugoslavia dealing initially with the consequences of the ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The IRC later launches comprehensive community rehabilitation programmes in Bosnia.

1994  The IRC sets up emergency programmes to aid Rwandan refugees pouring into Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of the genocide and ensuing civil war.

1995  The IRC moves into Somaliland, providing agriculture extension training and small business credit programmes for refugees returning from camps in Ethiopia.

1996  In Burundi, the IRC begins emergency aid to displaced people in six of the country's 16 provinces.

1997  The IRC begins operating inside Kosovo, eventually providing aid to help meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees fleeing to Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia.

IRC-UK is established, to support the IRC’s global interventions and to add a new voice to the sometimes disquieting debates on refugees and asylum in the UK.

1998  IRC health care and public health services are established in Congo-Brazzaville.

1999  Emergency operations are launched for the East Timorese following a rampage by Indonesian militia groups that leaves tens of thousands of people homeless.

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

2001  IRC Belgium is established to support the IRC’s global programmes and to represent the IRC in Belgium and with the European Institutions.

2002  IRC activities broaden inside Afghanistan, with emergency aid programmes to one million displaced people, and reconstruction and rehabilitation for more than two million refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran.

The IRC undertakes an advocacy campaign to reverse the US government's slowdown in refugee resettlement approval following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

2003  The IRC responds to the war in Iraq with water and sanitation, and health care support.

Programmes expand in West Africa, with continued war in Liberia and new fighting in Ivory Coast, and growing populations of refugees and displaced persons in those countries and in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Programmes include health, education, family reunification and gender-based violence prevention.

2004  The IRC’s Mortality Survey for the Democratic Republic of Congo estimates that 3.9 million people have died in the DRC since the conflict began in 1998, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

IRC mobile relief teams, with specialists in health, water and sanitation, and child protection, deliver emergency services and supplies to the province of Aceh, the region closest to the epicentre of the devastating 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia.

In Sudan, the IRC begins providing health, water and sanitation, hygiene awareness, shelter, flood and drought relief, food security and economic revitalisation assistance to nearly 100 communities in the Darfur region.

The IRC starts providing essential services to Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Chad.

2005  Long-term aid by the IRC continues to help tsunami-affected communities in Indonesia by rehabilitating healthcare infrastructure, providing psychosocial support to children and families, and offering community regeneration.

Following a devastating earthquake in Pakistan, IRC emergency teams respond to help 250,000 people and treat thousands of the sick and injured.

2006  Working with local groups, the IRC provides urgent assistance to thousands of people affected by fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

2007  The IRC launches campaign to aid and support over 4 million displaced and uprooted Iraqis.

2008  The IRC observes our 75th anniversary.

2009  IRC affiliate the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children becomes the Women's Refugee Commission.

2010  The IRC responds to Haiti’s devastating earthquake, recruiting dozens of Haitian staff, and launching programmes to meet urgent needs.

In response to the floods that sweep across Pakistan, the IRC expands is programmes to help rebuild infrastructure, provide health care and sanitation, and help communities recover. 

2011  In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia the IRC’s country programmes respond to the famine and drought affecting millions of people across East Africa.


IRC-UK is a registered charity, number 1065972
Copyright © International Rescue Committee, 2012