Over the past 25 years, the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville has resettled thousands of refugees from dozens of countries. But with conflicts raging around the world — from the high-profile wars in Ukraine and Israel to the aftermath of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — the group’s work is far from finished.
IRC CEO and President David Miliband, a former Labour Party politician in the United Kingdom, visited Charlottesville earlier this month to celebrate a quarter-century of accomplishments made by the local arm of the global humanitarian aid, relief and development nongovernmental organization. That celebration, however, was tempered by Miliband’s reminder of the growing scale of the human cost of conflict as the world enters what he called an “age of crisis.”
The Charlottesville IRC has resettled more than 5,000 refugees from 32 different countries over the past 25 years, Miliband said on Oct. 11 to a crowd gathered at the Haven, a day shelter for the homeless in downtown Charlottesville, at an event arranged and produced by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. The local IRC said that it resettles anywhere from 150 to 250 refugees every year; during the evacuation of Afghanistan from Kabul International Airport in 2021, Charlottesville alone accommodated more than 500 Afghans.
“About four to five percent of the total population are refugees,” he said. “We see ourselves as community builders here in Charlottesville, and we like to think that the contribution that we’ve made is not just for lives of the refugees, but for the lives of the community.”
As “community builders” the local IRC offers refugees coming to the Charlottesville area assistance through key programs: resettlement, employment, education, integration and support.
IRC case managers provide housing and school enrollment, make referrals for medical care, give legal advice, offer classes in English and provide access to local employers.
“Successful integration of refugees takes a village,” Miliband said. “We work with universities, local nonprofit organizations, private sectors, because we know we need to set people on the path to success if they are going to be active contributors to the society.”
According to the Charlottesville IRC, within six months, most refugees are economically self-sufficient.
The numbers and success rate is impressive, but so too is the size of the humanitarian crisis the world now faces.
“There is a growing sense that global risks are reaching an unprecedented scale — fifty-four civil wars or conflicts around the world, over 100 million displaced, 258 million facing acute food insecurity or worse, and a growing climate crisis. Humanitarian action is needed now more than ever,” the Charlottesville IRC said in a statement announcing Miliband’s visit.
Miliband said the world has entered an “age of crisis.”
There are 360 million people worldwide who are in need of humanitarian assistance, he said. Of those 360 million, 70% are the product of conflict while the other 30% are the product of climate or economic disaster, according to the IRC’s "Emergency Watch List."
One need not look far to see them; they are on every television and in every newspaper in the country today, especially as new wars rage in Ukraine and Israel.
Miliband said the IRC is taking the situation in Israel seriously.
Before Hamas launched its surprise attack on Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7 and before Israel declared a full-on war with the Gaza-based Palestinian terror group that same day, there were already 1.7 million Palestinian refugees living in Gaza, according to the United Nations. That is the majority of the territory’s 2.1 million people.
Now, as Israel prepares for a ground invasion, it is asking those living in the north of the territory to relocate. But many of those people have nowhere to go, seeing as how the densely packed country is the size of Las Vegas with three times the population and all border crossings into Israel and Egypt have been closed since the war began.
To date, at least 3,478 have been killed in Gaza and 1,400 in Israel. The number climbs every day.
Miliband said the IRC is monitoring the conflict from its operations in surrounding Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria — none of whom have opened their borders to Palestinian refugees. There are is no IRC programming in Israel, he said, including Gaza.