The offices at the headquarters of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have been a hive of activity over recent days as teams prepared to take more aid to the Berzeh area, and first aid squads in al-Zahera operation centre prepared themselves for mission to the Yarmouk camp.
The society has mounted eight successful operations to evacuate people from the Yarmouk camp, but the last three attempts failed. Mahmoud Qweder, a volunteer from the first aid squads who was involved in these missions, said the operation involved much more than just first aid. "We transferred people from Yarmouk camp and tried to assist them to get in contact with their relatives outside the camp, while the sick we transferred them to hospitals," he said.
Qweder said that people inside the camp are exhausted and many are desperate to make contact with friends and family who have moved on. "When they find a relative, they forget everything; the hunger, sickness and even the pain."
Beyond their first aid skills and immediate relief, SARC volunteers also bring solidarity and goodwill to their missions, which can be vital for the psychological well-being of those living in difficult circumstances.
Mahmoud has been a volunteer with SARC for 14 months and is now used to extremely dangerous missions. Last year he was trapped for five hours with his colleagues in Berzeh, while they were evacuating people during a fire fight.
On Saturday, 8 February, after several hours of negotiation, trucks from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) loaded with humanitarian aid and accompanied by a United Nations vehicle, entered the old part of the city of Homs. These vehicles - clearly marked with the protective Red Crescent on a white background - came under rifle fire as they entered the area. One of the drivers was wounded. Mortar shells were also fired near the convoy.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is deeply concerned about the failure of the various parties to the conflict in Syria to respect the Movement's protective emblems and the frequent threat to the lives of medical and other humanitarian personnel, including volunteers and staff of SARC In any armed conflict, international law prohibits attacks on anyone - in this case volunteers and staff of SARC, their vehicles and buildings - bearing the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem.
"Given the extremely difficult conditions prevailing in Syria today - especially in towns like Homs - it is absolutely vital for all parties to the conflict to facilitate the work of all humanitarian and healthcare personnel," said Abdul Rahman al-Attar, president of SARC. "They must respect the Red Crescent and Red Cross emblems displayed on tents, buildings, vehicles and clothing and spare those bearing them."
SARC, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) join in calling for immediate steps to be taken to protect healthcare and humanitarian personnel. They strongly urge all parties to respect and facilitate their humanitarian mission. Without respect for the emblems and protection of those bearing them, crossing front lines to save lives is all but impossible. The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement also reaffirms that people have the right to humanitarian assistance and medical care where they live, and should not have to leave their homes and separate from their families and loved ones in order to get access to food and other basic needs.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement calls for access to all besieged areas in Syria and respect for providers of health care.
Robert Mardini, head of the operations for the Near and Middle East at the ICRC, said all parties to the conflict must facilitate unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians, and stressed that much greater access to health care for the sick and wounded must be a priority for all. "Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must allow civilians in areas caught up in fighting to leave for safer areas should they wish to do this," he said.
Despite Saturday's attack, SARC volunteers were able to carry on their humanitarian work and distributed 250 food parcels, 190 hygiene kits, and medicines for chronic diseases in Homs. Around 600 people were evacuated from the old part of the city of Homs. Meanwhile, Red Crescent and other humanitarian workers managed to obtain access to Barzeh, in the suburbs of Damascus, for 47 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid. At Yarmouk refugee camp, the Red Crescent also gave first aid to the wounded and psychosocial care for people traumatized by the violence, before evacuating serious cases to medical facilities outside the camp.
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