Founded in 1933, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. The IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. At work in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, we restore safety, dignity and hope to millions who are uprooted and struggling to endure. The IRC leads the way from harm to home.
We serve people whose lives have been upended by war, conflict and natural disasters
We work in countries where people don’t have the support they need to recover from crisis
We respond within 72 hours, staying to help countries stabilize and people rebuild their lives.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a global humanitarian aid, relief, and development nongovernmental organization. Founded in 1933 as the International Relief Association, at the request of Albert Einstein, and changing its name in 1942 after amalgamating with the similar Emergency Rescue Committee, the IRC provides emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and those displaced by war, persecution, or natural disaster. The IRC is currently working in about 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities where it resettles refugees and helps them become self-sufficient. It focuses mainly on health, education, economic wellbeing, power, and safety.
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. In 2016, 26 million people in about 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities benefited from IRC programs.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was the American branch of the International Relief Association (which later combined with another relief organization), which was founded by Albert Einstein in 1931. The IRC was initially an organization that helped those who were fleeing Nazi Germany and as need arose it expanded its clientele.
The International Relief Association (IRA) was 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. After the Nazis took power in 1933, the organization moved its headquarters to Paris.
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 First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, founded the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) to aid European refugees trapped in Vichy France. ERC founding member Varian Fry arrived in Marseilles within a few weeks of the fall of France, where he pulled together a small team that 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 just 13 months, ending when Fry was expelled by the Vichy French. Fry also worked closely with British intelligence, helping to establish escape routes for British servicemen. Fry also took a map showing the distribution of mines in the Meditarranean that he received from a refugees and gave it to an agent of British intelligence.
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. The organization was 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.
In the 1940s, IRC fed people during the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. 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.
In the period immediately following the end of the Second World War, the IRC was one of several organizations aiding refugees from Eastern Europe. These refugees were screened to see if they had valuable information concerning the Soviet bloc countries. A select few were recruited to participate in covert operations being conducted by the intelligence community.
In 1949, the IRC took a significant step toward a greater integration into the covert network. The IRC distributed a confidential memorandum that it was prepared to take part in sensitive covert operations at the behest of the U.S. government. Only a select few within the Committee would be told of these operations. From this point onward, the IRC would function on a two-pronged basis. There would be programs to assist refugees that would be transparent and, at the same time, there would be parallel operations known to only a few.
In 1950, the IRC intensified its aid in Europe with Project Berlin, which provided food to the people of East Berlin amid increased Soviet oppression. After the war, the Committee's European representatives focused on rebuilding the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as a bulwark against the Communists.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, around 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. Since its opening in 2005, by 2012 the Resettlement Support Center (formerly known as the Overseas Processing Entity) in the Thai capital Bangkok had helped 90,000 people seek 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.
The IRC worked closely with local aid organizations to respond to various disasters, including in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake; 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 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.
Following the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, the IRC deployed its Emergency Response Team to Haiti to deliver help to Port-au-Prince. IRC experts in emergency health, shelter and children's welfare worked with local aid groups to assist survivors.
David Miliband, former British Foreign Secretary, became the IRC president and CEO in 2013. In 2015, according to IRC it trained 15,000 farmers, gave 440,000 babies measles vaccinations, job training to 27,000 people and resettled 10,000 refugees in the United States.
In 2016, Fast Company said that IRC "might be the most under-recognized yet influential nongovernmental aid group in the world." In 2016, it had 11,000 people in it, and offices in around 40 countries. It had an annual operating budget of around $700 million. In 2016, the IRC aided around 15,000 women and girls through protection and empowerment programs in Jordan. In 2016 the IRC published the "Outcomes and Evidence Framework," an interactive tool that aims to create a framework for guiding humanitarian decision-making using theories of change and research evidence. The same year, they publicly committed to using this tool to ensure that all of their programs are evidence-based or evidence-generating by 2020 as part of the "Grand Bargain" commitments.
In July 2018, IRC was behind the Welcome Home initiative to give tours and activities for refugees in New York City and Northern California.
In 2019, the IRC in San Diego began hosting a "Refugee Film Festival" that presents documentaries about the refugee experience.
On March 13, 2020, the second annual IRC's Refugee Film Festival in San Diego was postponed until June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IRC is now at work in about 40 countries and in 26 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.
The organization was involved in responding to a massacre in Bani Walid, Libya, where near a hundred young men attempting to escape a militia were gunned down.
On August 5, 2018, it was reported that the agency had lowered its staff number in Georgia after refugee arrivals decreased.
The IRC is one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance in the DRC, 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. Between 2002 and 2018, the IRC has provided medical care, counseling and economic support services to about 40,000 women and girls who have survived sexual violence in Congo.[self-published source][dead link]
The IRC is at the origin of a controversial estimate of the excess mortality in the DRC due to conflicts following the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. According to the IRC at first, the excess mortality was estimated at 3.8 million deaths. This estimate was challenged by a group of Belgian demographers sent to the DRC by a European institution to help draw up electoral lists for the DRC. For cross-checking purposes, they made a study of the excess mortality in the DRC over the period 1998-2004 which came to 183,000 deaths, twenty times less.
Yazidi refugees from Iraq receive aid from the IRC at Newroz camp, Syria, 13 August 2014
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.
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 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. The organization has also advocated for the United States to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; 196 nations have signed this UN convention; the US is the only UN nation which so far has not.
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, Indonesia after the South Asian tsunami, Myanmar after the 2008 cyclone, and Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
An IRC doctor conducting a check-up on a young Syrian refugee, Ramtha, Jordan, 28 August 2013
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
IRC psychosocial workers help rape survivors access services, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11 June 2010
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, 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.
A group of women learning to create a fishing net via an IRC program, Northern Lebanon, 6 November 2013
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.
Programs for children
In 2016, the IRC and its partners helped provide over 1.5 million children with access to educational opportunities. 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; 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.
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.
In addition to its New York headquarters, the IRC also has offices in approximately 40 countries and 27 U.S. cities, as well as European offices in London, Berlin, Bonn, Geneva, and Brussels.
As of June 2018, the IRC had over 11,000 staff members.
The IRC issued a report in 2008 detailing the plight of Iraqi refugees on the five-year anniversary of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
The next year, the organization followed up with a report on the plight of Iraqi refugees in the United States. The report argued that while "resettlement continues to be a critical and lifesaving intervention for thousands of at-risk Iraqi refugees who are living in precarious conditions in exile and unable to return home safely…the federal program no longer meets the basic needs of today’s newly arriving refugees and requires urgent reform."
In 2010, the IRC's Commission on Iraqi Refugees issued a third report on displaced Iraqis entitled, "A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq." The report asserted that Iraqis are trapped in poverty and uncertainty and their needs are growing more acute, even as international attention and assistance wanes. The IRC's recommendations included increasing aid for the displaced, intensifying efforts to create conditions that would enable people to go home safely and accelerating resettlement for those who cannot go back.
In a series of five ground-breaking mortality surveys between 2000 and 2007, the IRC documented the devastating impact of the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most recent report estimated that 5.4 million people had died from conflict-related causes in Congo since 1998, and 2.1 million of those deaths occurred after the formal end of the war in 2002. These statistics are often cited by media and nongovernmental agencies reporting on the humanitarian crisis in Congo.
NEW YORK, NY 10168-1299 | Tax-exempt since April 1955
Classification (NTEE) International Migration, Refugee Issues (International, Foreign Affairs and National Security)
Nonprofit Tax Code Designation: 501(c)(3) Defined as: Organizations for any of the following purposes: religious, educational, charitable, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (as long as it doesn’t provide athletic facilities or equipment), or the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.
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