The exodus of thousands of people from Kosovo has put refugee relief agencies
into high gear. Most are working under the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. agency that has the mandate to assist and
protect the world's 13.2 million refugees.
The Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee is no exception. And while the ARC is active in the latest Balkan conflict, this relatively obscure agency has experience in earlier conflicts in the Balkans and around the world.
THE AMERICAN REFUGEE COMMITTEE RUNS ITS WORLDWIDE RELIEF PROGRAMS from a rather modest office with 18 staff members in south Minneapolis. Photographs of refugees and laminated maps of ARC program countries hang on the walls in the room where Karen Johnson Elshazly directs ARC's international programs. She's been with the agency since its beginning 20 years ago. Elshazly says ARC's first relief effort was for Hmong and Cambodian refugees who fled to Thailand. "After the first six months, there were very few people who realized they sat on that border for another 13 1/2 years. ARC was there until the end and followed them home," she says.
The ARC never planned to be in the refugee business. Its early health programs were to be short-lived. Once all the Southeast Asian refugees in Thailand resettled or returned to their homelands the agency would pack its bags and go home. But the late 1970s was the start of a refugee flood in the region. ARC's Southeast Asia Regional Director, Gary Dahl, is based in Bangkok, Thailand. Dahl says ARC is still working with Thai authorities to provide health services to refugees.
To make a donation to the American Refugee Committee or read more about its work, visit the agency's web site.