Refugees International is a voice for refugees, displaced persons, and vulnerable people worldwide. RI brings the plight of people in danger to the attention of the international community and stimulates humanitarian action on their behalf.
RI was founded as a volunteer organization to advocate protection for more than one million Indochinese refugees. RI hired its first staff in 1986 and moved beyond its early focus on Indochinese refugees to become a leading advocacy organization on behalf of the world's most vulnerable people.
RI grew steadily during the 1990s under the leadership of its president, Lionel Rosenblatt, and board chairs Bill Clarke, the president of Hilscher-Clarke, Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and James Kimsey, the founder and chairman emeritus of AOL. In February 2001, Kenneth H. Bacon became RI's president and CEO.
RI's role is to make on-site assessments of the needs, such as food, shelter, and protection, of people caught up in a humanitarian emergency. Each field mission is carefully planned to assess a humanitarian situation that threatens to become catastrophic or has already become so. The organization's objective is always to generate action to address life-threatening humanitarian problems that are not receiving the international attention they deserve. In 2000, RI fielded humanitarian assessment missions to nineteen countries in Africa, Asia, and the Balkans.
Eritrea. RI launched an assessment mission to Eritrea three days before the June 2000 ceasefire with Ethiopia was declared and issued the first report by a humanitarian organization on the massive needs of the 1.5 million war- and drought-displaced Eritreans, calling for immediate international aid to avoid a catastrophic loss of life. The payoff for the Eritrean people came quickly. The UN issued an $87.3 million emergency humanitarian aid appeal and the U.S. government announced a donation of an additional 50,000 tons of food to Eritrea.
Guinea. Today, the most urgent humanitarian crisis in the world is unfolding in Guinea. RI has worked in the country for years and has built a solid base of experience and expertise. In December 2000, RI was in Guinea to witness the tragic flight from camps to the capital of refugees threatened by militia and anti-refugee feeling. RI's eyewitness reports citing the lack of international action to help the refugees had a profound effect. The result was a dramatic increase in efforts to care for the refugees: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees fielded three additional emergency response teams; a supply of boats was made available to facilitate the return of refugees to Sierra Leone; and efforts were renewed to build refugee camps in secure areas.
The Refugees International Web site answers the following questions: Where has RI made a life-saving difference? Which humanitarian crises is RI focusing on right now? Visitors will also find the organization's recent and past publications and information pages with photos highlighting RI's work worldwide.
Refugees International is a small but effective organization that operates on an annual budget of less than $2 million. Because it leverages large amounts of humanitarian aid on behalf of the world's most vulnerable people, the organization's impact far exceeds its means. However, to preserve its independence and thus its ability to speak freely, RI does not accept funds from governments or the United Nations, instead relying solely on committed individuals, foundations, and corporations who understand and support its life-saving work.