The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is extremely alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the bombs and shelling have continued to escalate throughout the day, people are fleeing their homes and desperately seeking safety. The IRC strongly supports the UN Secretary General’s call for the protection of civilians and adherence to international humanitarian law to avert what would be the worst humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in decades.

The resulting humanitarian catastrophe from a full-scale war in Ukraine will lead to grave human suffering. The world will bear witness to innocent deaths, destruction of civilian infrastructure and massive displacement inside the country and across Europe. There will be far reaching humanitarian implications across Europe and the globe, destabilizing the continent, straining resources of Ukraine’s neighbors, and impacting food supply for countries like Yemen, Libya and Lebanon - already facing acute levels of food insecurity.

Lani Fortier, Senior Director of Emergencies at the IRC said, “We truly hope we can avert disaster and avoid the human suffering we will inevitably see if this conflict continues to escalate. However, the IRC is ready and preparing for the worst. We are working to quickly mobilize resources and connect with partners to establish a response that will provide life-saving support to civilians forced to flee their homes. The IRC is meeting with partners and local civil society organizations in Poland and Ukraine to assess capacity for responding to an increase of refugees and people in need. We will work to respond where we are needed the most and with the services that are needed urgently. Whatever the needs are, we are preparing to meet them.”

As the situation teeters on the edge of full-scale war, civilians must be protected, the UN Charter respected and International Humanitarian Law adhered to. People must be allowed to move freely, and aid agencies must be granted unfettered humanitarian access to those in need of aid. The international community must remain united and apply diplomatic pressure to focus on a political settlement. At the same time, the world must prepare for the worst by investing in humanitarian relief services inside and outside Ukraine to save lives and alleviate human suffering. European countries must welcome their neighbors fleeing Ukraine by keeping borders open and ensuring full access to asylum and adequate reception. 

The IRC has been responding to humanitarian crises in Europe since 2015, where we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Our teams provided water, health and sanitation, and psychosocial support to refugees and migrants. Since then, the IRC has also provided support to refugees and migrants in Germany from 2016, Italy from 2017, and Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2020. Last year, the IRC also started to provide integration support to refugees and their local communities in the UK.