International Refugee Organization (IRO)

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International Refugee Organization (IRO) was the official agency of the United Nations (UN) for the maintenance and resettlement of European refugees. Although it was first officially organized on 20 August 1948, through the Preparatory Commission of IRO it actually began work 1 July 1947, the date of expiration of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) and the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees. By the time it had terminated operations on 31 January 1952, it had provided care and maintenance for more than 1,000,000 refugees in camps in Europe, moved 1,038,750 in resettlement to overseas countries, and repatriated 72,834 to their countries of origin, at a cost of slightly more than $400,000,000.

Many Russian Mennonite refugees were helped by IRO, both in maintenance in camps in Germany, as well as in free transportation to Canada and South America. In 1948 four major transports (Volendam twice, General Heinzelmann, Charlton Monarch), all IRO except the first (for which Mennonite Central Committee later received $160,000 from IRO), transported a total of 5,499 refugees to South America, chiefly to Paraguay. The first Volendam transport of 28 January 1947, actually initiated the IRO resettlement program. The MCC through C. F. Klassen, its commissioner for refugees, co-operated closely with the IRO, with whom it had excellent relationships.

When IRO was discontinued, part of its work was assumed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees established by UN in December 1950, and part by the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, organized in late 1951 on the initiative of the United States.

Before IRO took over, UNRRA, which had been established by UN on 9 November 1943, took on the refugee problem and established refugee camps, beginning this work on 1 September 1944. However, its service was limited to citizens of member states of the United Nations. The Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees, established in 1945, assumed responsibility for the relief of refugees in Western European and neutral countries where the MCC was not operating. The constitution of IRO was actually adopted by the UN in December 1946, but the required 15 signatory nations were not secured until 1948. The Preparatory Commission in IRO was set up on 1 July 1947, by 20 nations (including some that had not yet formally adhered to IRO) as a stopgap until the full official activation of IRO could take place.

The Mennonite Central Committee co-operated with IRO also by lending, beginning 27 June 1949, a team of three (or more) workers for welfare service in IRO-operated Displaced Persons (DP) camps. When the IRO program was discontinued in January 1952, and Church World Service (CWS) continued a welfare service program in the DP camps, the MCC-IRO team was transferred to CWS, continuing this service until 1954.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1955

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "International Refugee Organization (IRO)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 5 Dec 2023.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1955). International Refugee Organization (IRO). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 December 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 48-49. All rights reserved.

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