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And IRC aid worker walks with two men living as refugees in Germany

Refugees in Europe

For decades European countries have offered a welcome to people fleeing terrible circumstances of war and persecution. Today the International Rescue Committee is not only speaking out, but also working in Greece, Germany and Serbia—and supporting 15 European countries in all—to ensure that vulnerable refugees can safely rebuild their lives.


In Geneva in 1951, a landmark international agreement was signed to recognize and protect refugees. After the Second World War, people across Europe opened their hearts and their homes to refugees. Now, with more people displaced by crisis than ever before, Europe must again stand with refugees and create a future where everyone can work, integrate and contribute to society.

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Why are refugees settling in Europe?

The civil war in Syria has been one of the largest drivers of the global refugee crisis, which has left 68.5 million people displaced worldwide. With neighboring countries no longer able to absorb uprooted Syrians after more than six years of fighting, almost one million Syrian refugees have fled to Europe to seek safety and better lives. The ongoing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan—and other countries in crisis like Nigeria, Guinea, and Ivory Coast—has also pushed desperate people to seek safety and a new start in Europe.

In Greece, around 50,000 refugees are waiting for asylum, to be reunited with their families or to be allowed to move elsewhere in Europe. Thousands of refugees are stuck in the Balkans as borders close, their lives on hold.

How have European governments responded?

European Union (EU) policies in place to prevent people from entering Europe risk whittling away humanitarian rights and standards for the world’s most vulnerable.

Two years since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, refugees stuck on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros are still being forced to live in overcrowded and dangerous conditions as they wait months for their cases to be heard.

Safe and legal ways for refugees to reach Europe are limited.

Vulnerable people risking their lives are taking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. Under EU-sanctioned policies many are being pulled back to Libya, a country in turmoil. Across Libya, 1.3 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile across the European continent, governments are grappling with the challenge of how to successfully integrate the over 1.3 million people who have been given asylum in the past two years.

Now is the time for Europe to show global leadership by adopting policies that uphold its founding values.

What is the IRC doing to help?

In July 2015, the IRC was the first international aid organization to assist the thousands of refugees who were arriving each day on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Today, IRC aid workers continue to work in Greece and along the Balkan route to support the most vulnerable refugees, including children traveling alone and at risk of smuggling or trafficking.

Through Refugee.Info—a website, Facebook page and app—the IRC empowers refugees on the move by providing them with real-time, reliable information in Arabic and Farsi about their rights, local laws and support services. The platform helps refugees in Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria regain the power to make choices that protect themselves and their families.

In Germany, the IRC provides expert guidance on refugee integration, including the most impactful ways in which to support refugees so that they can access education and enter the workforce. Our ‘healing classrooms’ approach creates safe learning environments for vulnerable young refugees dealing with the trauma of being forced to flee their homes, the journey to Europe and the issues they face in rebuilding their lives.

The IRC provides support to 15 European countries, offering expert guidance on refugee integration by drawing on our 80+ years of experience assisting refugees and people seeking asylum, which includes more than four decades of work in refugee resettlement and integration in the United States.

Across Europe, we work to create policy change and to ensure that governments and institutions are responding effectively to refugee crises.

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