HU OSA 363 Records of the American Refugee Committee's Balkan Programs

Identity Statement

Reference Code
HU OSA 363
Records of the American Refugee Committee's Balkan Programs
1992 - 2007
Description Level
Extent and medium (processed)
35 Archival boxes, 4.38 linear meters
1 Oversized box (40 cm), 0.4 linear meters
16 Digital container, 0.02 linear meters


Name of creator(s)
American Refugee Committee
Administrative / Biographical history
The American Refugee Committee (ARC) was founded in 1978 by Chicago corporate executive Neal Ball with the initial mission to help Indochinese refugees fleeing Communist regimes find new life in the United States. For much of the first 10 years of its existence, ARC worked only in Thailand, the primary destination of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and in Sudan. In 1988, ARC entered Malawi, and in 1990, Cambodia. In 1993, ARC started operations in four additional countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, and Mozambique. Other former Yugoslav republics and territories followed in 1999: Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. ARC was also briefly active in Albania (1999-2000).

In the Balkans, ARC worked on easing the life of refugees and internally displaced persons and on assisting them in their return home as soon as conditions for a safe return were met. ARC implemented public and mental health programs, provided educational and vocational training, helped reconstruct destroyed homes, built playgrounds for children, and restored and developed war-damaged infrastructure including local water supply systems. ARC also organized numerous “go and see” bus trips for refugees intent on exploring the possibility of returning to their places of origin.

After the 2007 closing of its operations in the Balkans, ARC continued to focus on the most troubled countries and regions of Africa and South Asia.

In June 2018, the organization dropped the label ‘refugee’ and was renamed Alight. The gesture was made “in solidarity with the people served by ARC, who are too often defined by a single dark moment in their lives” (, accessed on January 25, 2021).

At the beginning of 2021, Alight had ongoing operations in Jordan, El Salvador, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, and Uganda.

Karen Johnson Elshazly, the compiler of this collection, joined ARC in 1979 as the organization’s third employee. Between 1979 and 2002, Johnson Elshazly served as Director of International Programs and thus oversaw the expansion of ARC and its involvement in crisis regions throughout the world, including the Balkans. Between 2002 and 2007, Johnson Elshazly was Senior Advisor to the President of ARC.
Archival history
The archive of the American Refugee Committee is deposited with the Minnesota Historical Society. This selection of documents on the Balkans operations of ARC was compiled by former ARC Director of International Programs (1979-2002) and Senior Advisor to the President (2002-2007), Ms. Karen Johnson Elshazly, and was transferred to Blinken OSA in 2015.

Content and Structure

Scope and Content (Narrative)
The fonds documents the activity of the American Refugee Committee in the successor states and territories of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (except Slovenia), and Albania, between 1992 and 2007. It consists of six series and totals 30 archival boxes (textual materials), 5 photo boxes, 1 oversize box (maps), 16 DVDs containing video materials, and a Microsoft Access database.

The documents range from administrative, research, grant and project files through photographs and video recordings to a set of maps and a survey database. The textual documents, which constitute the backbone of this collection, provide a unique insight into the on-the-ground activity of an American relief organization involved in post-war reconciliation and reconstruction work in former Yugoslavia. The photographs, slides and videos constitute visual testimony of the destruction of war, but also hope; they capture people and places in connection with the humanitarian effort of local and expatriate ARC staff.

The first series (Administrative Files, 2 archival boxes), consists of a variety of documents on the work of ARC, that are not connected to ARC operations in specific countries, and includes annual reports, executive correspondence, organigrams, and standard operating procedures. The second series (Country Files, 28 archival boxes), is dedicated to country-specific documents including background, grant and project files, internal correspondence, reports and memoranda. The third series (Photographs and Slides, 5 photo boxes), is a collection of photographs and slides documenting the work of ARC in former Yugoslavia and Albania. The fourth series (Maps, 1 flat oversized box), comprises a variety of civilian and military maps created, used, or acquired during ARC’s operations in the Balkans. The fifth series (Digital Video Materials, 16 DVDs), consists of video recordings documenting the work of ARC in the Balkans and worldwide. The sixth, and last, series is made up of a digital database that contains the results of a public health survey carried out by ARC.

Not Expected

Conditions of Access and Use

Conditions governing access
Not restricted
Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, English, Serbian

Description Control

Archivist's note
Arranged by Kwame Varga and Mark László-Herbert; described by Robert Parnica and Mark László-Herbert, February 28, 2021.