efficiency_chart_2017
×

Search form

Eight decades of rescue

History of the International Rescue Committee

Updated 

1933 

Varian Fry led an incredibly complex and dangerous operation to rescue thousands of people from Nazi-controlled France at the height of World War II.
Varian Fry at his office in Marseilles in the spring of 1941. "I felt obliged to help," he said of his daring rescue operation. Photo: IRC

American branch of the European-based International Relief Association (IRA) 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

Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) formed to aid European refugees trapped in Vichy France. Over 2,000 political, cultural, union and academic leaders 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.

Carel Sternberg, former IRC executive director, visits a food distribution center in Berlin in 1945. Photo: IRC

1945

The IRC, at the end of World War II, initiates emergency relief programs, establishes hospitals and children's centers and starts refugee resettlement efforts in Europe. With the descent of the Iron Curtain in 1946, the IRC initiates resettlement program 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.

Leo Cherne poses for a picture holding a flag while standing in front of a sign that says "Help Free Hungary."
Led by Chairman Leo Cherne, the IRC provided aid to Hungarian refugees after Soviet forces crushed an attempted revolution in the country. Photo: IRC

1951

Leo Cherne, a board member since 1946, elected IRC Chairman, a position he would hold for 40 years.

1954

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

1956

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

1960

A Cuban family of four poses with an IRC staff member in front of a wall that says "IRC," next to a Cuban flag and a U.S. flag.
The Estevez family was one of many Cuban families resettled in the U.S. by the IRC during the 1960s. Photo: IRC

An IRC resettlement program 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; IRC also begins aid to Chinese fleeing to Hong Kong from the mainland.

1971

IRC provides extensive support, especially medical, health, child care 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.

A refugee woman and child from Laos sit on the ground outside, awaiting medical treatment.
Laotian refugees await care outside an IRC medical clinic in Thailand. Photo: IRC

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 U.S.; IRC also helps refugees from Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala.

1976    

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

1977

IRC President Leo Cherne organizes 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 of people fleeing from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

A young Afghan boy pours water onto the roots of a growing tree.
An Afghan refugee boy in Pakistan waters a fruit tree. Photo: IRC

1979

Departure of refugees from the Soviet Union - mostly dissidents, Armenians, Jews reaches a peak of 53,000.  Thousands are resettled by IRC.

1980    

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

IRC starts emergency programs in the Sudan for flood of refugees fleeing Ethiopia. The work extends to Somalia in 1981.

A group of young Ethiopian refugee children sit in the dirt outside a structure made of sticks and branches.
Ethiopian refugee children sit outside a feeding center in Suriya, Sudan in 1982. Photo: Jon Eklund/IRC

1982    

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

1984    

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

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

An older man and a number of young boys, all Afghan refugees, pose for a photo outside, in front of a tree.
Starting in 1988, thousands of Afghan refugee families prepared to leave Pakistan and return home. Photo: IRC

1987

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

IRC responds to refugee flow of Mozambicans to Malawi — soon to exceed one million — by initiating relief programs. Eight years later, IRC assists the returning refugees inside Mozambique.

1988    

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

1989    

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

A young Iraqi refugee stands in alone, outside, in a crowded refugee camp in Turkey.
This young girl was among the thousands of Iraqi refugees who were forced to leave their homes and flee for Turkey in the early 1990s. Photo: A. Hollman/UNHCR

1991

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

After the first Gulf War, the IRC comes to the aid of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees who flee to the mountains of Turkey to escape Saddam Hussein's terror.

1992

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

1994

IRC sets up emergency programs to aid Rwandan refugees pouring into Tanzania and the former Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) as a result of the genocide and ensuing civil war.

1995

Two Bosnian women lie in beds in a refugee camp in Croatia, one of whom is crying.
The IRC began work in the former Yugoslavia in 1992 following the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 1993, we’ve resettled over 20,000 refugees from the Balkans in the U.S. Photo: Elizabeth Rappaport/IRC

The IRC moves into Somaliland, providing agriculture extension training and small business credit programs 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

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.

Two Kosovar refugee women, and two infant children, sit inside a tent.
These Kosovar refugees are among the hundreds of thousands whom the IRC aided in Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia in the late 1990s. Photo: Mark Bartolini/IRC

IRC opens an office in the United Kingdom 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.

Three young Afghan girls in bright pink clothing pose for a picture.
As the new millennium began, the IRC continued its work in Afghanistan, aiding millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghanis. Photo: IRC

2000

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

2002    

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

IRC undertakes an advocacy campaign to reverse the U.S. government's slowdown in refugee resettlement approval following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

IRC participates in the demobilization of 1,200 child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

2003

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

A middle aged man squats down as he talks with a group of Iraqi children.
Michael Kocher, IRC's Vice President of International Programs, meets with a group of Iraqi children in 2004. Photo: IRC

Programs 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. Programs 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.

A group of Indonesians work together in a large wooden building, attaching pieces of wood together to build boats.
After a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Indonesia in December, 2004, the IRC provided extended aid to the regions most effected, which included economic revitalization programs such as boat-building. Photo: IRC

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 epicenter of the devastating December 26, 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 revitalization assistance to nearly 100 communities in the Darfur region.

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

2005

A doctor and another man, both Pakistani, sit on the floor, as the doctor takes the blood pressure of the other man.
In the wake of a catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan, the IRC provided aid, including medical care, to 250,000 people. Photo: Scott Anger IRC

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.

Only days after Hurricane Katrina destroyed a swath of the Gulf Coast in August, the IRC dispatches an emergency team of relief experts to Louisiana. It is our frst response to a humanitarian crisis in the United States. 

2006

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

Two young Iraqi boys smile and pose for a photo, with one placing his harm around the other.
Throughout the 21st century, the IRC has provided aid to millions of Iraqis whose lives have been uprooted by conflict in their country. Photo: Rachel Unkovic/IRC

2007

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

Haiti earthquake 2010
Wilio Jean and his son Wilji were reunited by IRC case workers. Photo: Susana Ferreira/IRC

The IRC begins providing aid in Haiti after a massive earthquake strikes just outside Port-au-Prince on January 12.

2011

The IRC helps Japanese aid groups provide lifesaving assistance to survivors of a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11. 

2012

The IRC begins assisting Syrians whose lives have been uprooted by a brutal civil war. In 2015, we provided aid to over 1.4 million people inside Syria.

2013

When one of the strongest storms in recorded history slams the Philippines, the IRC deploys an emergency team to assist the millions affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

2014

A Syrian woman on Lesbos rocks her child to sleep in a transit site for refugees arriving on the Greek island. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill/IRC

When West Africa experiences the largest outbreak of the Ebola virus in history, the IRC is at the forefront of the response to curb its spread, training thousands of local health facilities in Sierra Leone and other countries on how to protect health workers and limit the spread of the disease.

When 60,000 unaccompanied children cross the border into the United States from Central America in the summer of 2014, the IRC seeks to find out why and to reunite some of them with relatives in America.

2015

The IRC establishes an emergency response team on the Greek island of Lesbos to provide aid to the thousands of Syrian refugees arriving from Turkey who are fleeing their country's brutal civil war. The IRC soon expands our work to multiple refugee sites on the Greek mainland and in Serbia.

After Nepal's worst earthquake in 80 years, thousands of quake victims receive emergency assistance from the IRC’s partner organization, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR). 

Violence that broke out following a contested presidential election drives 260,000 Burundians to flee the country and leaves tens of thousands internally displaced. The IRC provides support to uprooted families inside Burundi and in neighboring countries.