Timeline: On the move

The past, present, and future of MSF’s work with people forced from home

Al Tanidaba camp

Sudan 2021 © Ehab Zawati/MSF

Since its founding in 1971, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been caring for people uprooted by conflict, violence, and persecution. Over the decades our activities and strategies have evolved, but the fundamental goal remains the same: To provide lifesaving medical care and essential services to people forced from their homes, no matter who or where they are. 


Displaced: Caring for people on the move


MSF is founded in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, Nigeria, to deliver independent, impartial emergency medical care based solely on need.


MSF establishes its first large-scale medical program along the Cambodian-Thai border to care for Cambodian people fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime.


When the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, MSF teams make a clandestine trip into the country from neighboring Pakistan to reach injured civilians in remote regions.

Afghanistan © MSF


MSF launches a project in Nam Yao refugee camp in Thailand, where refugees who fled Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam had been arriving since 1975.

Thailand © Sebastiao Salgado


MSF teams provide emergency care to refugees and others affected by Liberia’s civil war at the height of the conflict.

Liberia © MSF


MSF launches one of the largest interventions since its founding to help Kurdish people fleeing the Gulf War.


MSF treats refugees fleeing ethnic violence in eastern Bosnia.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1995 1996
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995 © Olivier Jobard/MSF


MSF teams remain in Kigali throughout the Rwandan genocide and later help care for more than a million Rwandan refugees who fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Democratic Republic of Congo © Henk Braam


MSF provides humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing crisis in Kosovo.


MSF treats people wounded and displaced by Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.


Following the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition and resulting years of conflict, MSF cares for displaced people, both within Iraq’s borders and in other countries in the region.


After Cyclone Nargis hits Myanmar, MSF teams already working in the country help thousands of people displaced by the storm.

Myanmar © Robert Genest


Conflict breaks out in Syria after violent crackdowns on protests against the Assad regime. In the years that follow millions of people are displaced by the spiraling conflict, both within Syria and across the globe. MSF opens projects within Syria and for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

Syria © Yuri Kozyrev/NOOR


In a historic move, MSF refuses funding from the European Union in protest of the EU-Turkey deal, a restrictive immigration rule that forces refugees and migrants arriving to Europe through the Greek islands “irregularly” to return to Turkey.


More than 650,000 Rohingya people flee targeted violence in Myanmar, crossing the border into Bangladesh. They join hundreds of thousands more who were already living in the massive refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. MSF expands existing projects in the area to help.

Jamtoli and Hakimpara healthcare centres
Bangladesh © Anthony Kwan/MSF


In June, 630 vulnerable refugees and migrants are rescued on the Mediterranean Sea by MSF and SOS Mediterranée. Spain finally agrees to take them after they are denied entry to the nearest safe ports in Malta and Italy.

Rotation 7 - Rescue 2
Mediterranean Sea © Anthony Jean/SOS MEDITERRANEE


MSF calls on the new US administration to build a safe and humane migration policy. We are urging officials to immediately rescind a harmful order known as Title 42, which exploits the COVID-19 pandemic to essentially close the US-Mexico border, blocking migrants and asylum seekers and expelling them directly back to Mexico or their countries of origin.