International Refugee Organization

International Refugee Organization (IRO). A temporary agency of the United Nations (UN) that assisted refugees and displaced persons in Europe and Asia after the Second World War. The organization, which was headquartered in Geneva, was formally established in December 1946 by a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Eventually, 18 countries ratified the IRO’s constitution and joined the organization; these countries also provided its operating funds. The USSR and its satellites refused to join, however, because the organization mostly cared for refugees from Eastern Europe who found themselves in the British, American, and French zones of occupation and who, for political reasons, refused to return to their country of origin (see Repatriation). The total number of people under the protection of the IRO was around 1,600,000, including some 200,000 Ukrainians. The IRO began operation in July 1947 when it took over administration of the displaced persons camps, where most refugees lived, from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In addition to administering camps, the IRO aided in the voluntary repatriation of refugees (although very few people were repatriated after 1946) and helped the remainder to settle permanently in European or other countries; it also succeeded the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees as the international body with legal responsibility for refugees. Many countries (Australia, Canada, the United States, and South American countries) accepted IRO-sponsored immigrants under special legislation. In total, some 1,000,000 people were resettled overseas, among them about 114,000 Ukrainians. When the IRO ended its activity in Europe in 1952, about 100,000 refugees remained in displaced persons camps in West Germany and Austria. These countries, with the help of international organizations, assumed responsibility for the material well-being of the displaced persons and gave them the status of refugees. International legal responsibility for the refugees fell to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, the successor of the IRO. During its existence a small number of Ukrainians were employed at the middle and lower levels of the IRO administration in Germany and Austria.

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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