Our History

In early 1979 a number of foreign residents in Tokyo came together out of mutual concern for  the plight of refugees fleeing the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. They formed Refugees International and sought to find a way to make a difference. Capitalizing on the publicity generated by the G7 summit taking place in Tokyo, the group used advertisements and the press to shift the attention of the world to the plight of refugees and successfully used the media to appeal to visiting heads of state, and the world, for help.

Sue Morton, a founding member, continued her work with Refugees International when she returned to live in the USA. The group in Japan took the name Refugees International Japan (RIJ). In 2020 RIJ changed its name to Refugee Empowerment International (REI) to better reflect is goals. REI and RI are, by virtue of their shared historical origins, ‘sister’ organizations that support a common cause but each has developed independently of the other and operates autonomously with separate and distinct policies, agendas, and management.

Over time, our funding has evolved to support projects that provide longer-term benefits rather than short-term results. We are focusing on opportunities that will enable people to be self-sufficient and empowered and thus are more sustainable despite their uncertain conditions.