International Rescue Committee

International Rescue Committee
Formation 1933 (1933)
Type International NGO
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. The President of the International Rescue Committee is former U.K. Member of Parliament, David Miliband.

Consisting 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.



International Rescue can trace its origins to the International Relief Association (IRA), founded in 1931 in Germany by two left-wing factions, the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) and the Socialist Workers Party (SAP). Its purpose was to aid victims of state oppression and persecution.[1] After the Nazis took power in 1933, the organisation moved its headquarters to Paris.[2]

The KPO consisted of the 'right opposition' - communists who had been purged by Stalin in 1929 because of their support for Nikolai Bukharin. Among those purged was Jay Lovestone, the erstwhile head of the American Communist Party. It was Lovestone who formed an American section of the International Relief Association in 1933. Among those who joined him was Albert Einstein. Its purpose was to assist Germans suffering under Adolf Hitler's government - particularly supporters of the 'right opposition'. Later, refugees from Mussolini's Italy and Franco's Spain were assisted.

In 1940, European exiles and American liberals close to Eleanor Roosevelt, founded the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) to aid European refugees trapped in Vichy France. Its representative in Marseilles 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. Fry, also worked closely with British intelligence, helping to establish escape routes for British servicemen.[3]

In 1942, after the US entered the Second World War, IRA and ERC joined forces under the name International Relief and Rescue Committee, which was later shortened to the International Rescue Committee.[4] - financed largely by the National War Fund. According to historian Eric Thomas Chester, by the 1950s the IRC had evolved into a global operation functioning as an integral link in the CIA's covert network, became deeply involved in the volatile confrontations between the two superpowers, and participated in an array of sensitive clandestine operations.[5]


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.[4]


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. After the war, the Committee's European representatives focused on rebuilding the German SPD as a bulwark against the Communists.[1]

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 the Soviet forces’ crushing of the Hungarian revolution.[4] According to historian Eric Thomas Chester, the IRC was instrumental in the establishment of two key Washington lobby groups supporting South Vietnam, the American Friends of Vietnam, and its successor, the Citizens Committee for Peace with Freedom in Vietnam.[6][7]


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.[4]


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.[4]


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.[4]


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.[4]


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.[8]

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.[9]

The IRC worked closely with local aid organizations to respond to various disasters, including in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake;[10] and 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.

The IRC affiliate Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children became the Women's Refugee Commission in 2009.[11]

Current work

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.[12] IRC experts in emergency health, shelter and children’s welfare are now working with local aid groups to assist survivors.[13] 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.[14]


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.[15]


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.[16]


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[17] 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 has spearheaded a campaign urging the United States to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which is now before Congress.[18] The organization has also advocated for the United States to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;[19] 196 nations have signed this UN convention; the US is the only UN nation which so far has not.

Emergency response

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,[20] Indonesia after the South Asian tsunami, Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone, and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Health programs

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

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,[21] 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

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. wassup

Programs for children

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;[22] 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

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.[23]

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, and Liv Ullmann.[24]

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.[25]

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;[26] the Forbes Investment Guide named the IRC one of 10 gold star charities,[27] and in its 2009 review of American charities, Forbes magazine gave the IRC high ratings for program and fundraising efficiency;[28] Charity Navigator gives the IRC its top rating of four stars;[29] and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance reports that the IRC meets all of its 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.[30]


See also


  1. 1 2
  2. Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA, M.E. Sharpe, 1995. p7
  3. Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA, M.E. Sharpe, 1995 pp11-18
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 IRC | History of the International Rescue Committee
  5. Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA, M.E. Sharpe, 1995 pp17-18
  6. Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee and the CIA, M.E. Sharpe, 1995, p.145
  7. "What is David Miliband's International Rescue Committee?" Tom Griffin, Spinwatch, 28 March 2013
  8. “Inhuman Rights Immigration Bill”, Daily News, 16 March 2006
  10. “On the Ground: South Asia Quake – Six Days Later”, Reuters Alertnet, 13 October 2005
  11. IRC | History of the International Rescue Committee
  12. “Giving Donations That Transform Haiti”, CBS News, 24 February 2010
  13. IRC | "Crisis in Haiti"
  14. “A Better Future for Haitian Women”, Huffington Post, 9 March 2010
  15. IRC | "Congo: Forgotten Crisis"
  16. "Special Report: Iraqi Refugees", IRC, retrieved 18 March 2010
  17. IRC | "The IRC in the United States”
  18. IRC | "Stop Violence Against Women" Archived March 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. IRC | "Urge President Obama To Take Action on Children's Rights" Archived January 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. IRC | Sudan
  21. “Ending Violence Against Women”, ONE blog, 7 December 2009
  22. “Aid World Launches Standards for Crisis Education” Reuters, 8 December 2004
  24. IRC | Board of Directors and Overseers
  25. IRC | IRC Careers
  26. "Top Rated Charities", American Institute of Philanthropy, retrieved 18 March 2010
  27. “Genuinely Needy: Our Annual Survey of 200 Large Charities Picks Ten That Shine”, Forbes, 8 December 2003
  28. "International Rescue Committee", Forbes, retrieved 18 March 2010
  29. "International Rescue Committee", Charity Navigator, retrieved 18 March 2010
  30. "International Rescue Committee", Better Business Bureau, retrieved 18 March 2010
  31. Report: World ignoring Iraqi refugee crisis , CNN, 20 March 2008
  32. “Iraqi Refugees in the United States: In Dire Straits", IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010
  33. "Iraqi Refugees: A Tough Road Home", IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010
  34. “Congo Mortality Survey”, IRC, Retrieved 18 March 2010
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