News / Middle East

Red Cross: Humanitarian Aid Hampered by Violence in Syria

In this still image taken from video protesters in a Damascus suburb purportedly carry a wounded comrade Friday, December 30, 2011. Image content not independently verifiable.
In this still image taken from video protesters in a Damascus suburb purportedly carry a wounded comrade Friday, December 30, 2011. Image content not independently verifiable.
Lisa Schlein

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it is concerned about the escalating violence in Syria. The aid organization says it is particularly worried that the wounded and sick are unable to get access to medical care.

The ICRC says the situation in Syria is continuing to deteriorate. It says violence is taking a heavy toll, leaving hundreds of people dead or wounded. And, many protestors are being detained by the Syrian military.

Hicham Hassan, the ICRC spokesman for the Near and Middle East, told VOA the agency’s main concern remains the obstacles faced by wounded and sick people to gain access to medical care.

“People are more afraid to seek medical help in any place. So they really have to be selective out of fear for their own security," he said. "And medical staff and health staff are still finding difficulties to reach all persons at the right moment at a time where being late for 10 minutes or being on time could save a man’s life. If some person is wounded, which is the case for thousands of people since the end of March in Syria, and who have not received the necessary care, then they have lost their lives because of that, obviously.”  

The Swiss humanitarian organization has been in Syria for more than 40 years, mainly to aid the population of the occupied Golan.  But, its activities now have expanded to assist people affected by the internal violence.

Fifteen ICRC expatriate staff are working together with some 65 colleagues from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Hicham Hassan says the Syrian volunteers are working non-stop to provide medical and food aid to people in particularly difficult and risky circumstances.

Hassan says that with rising needs, the ICRC is concerned the arrival of winter will make living conditions even worse for the civilian population.

“Already there have been problems for people who are gaining their daily wages in a very difficult way. And today, with winter they will need more fuel. They will need more income to actually be able to take care of their families. Schools are there as well. So the needs are increasing significantly as the violence is also increasing. And, this is a main preoccupation for us now.”  

The Red Cross spokesman says sanctions imposed on Syria by various countries also are making the lives of ordinary people more difficult.

The ICRC says it remains concerned about the situation of thousands of detainees.  In September, Red Cross delegates visited the Damascus Central Prison at Adraa. There have been no follow-up visits.

Hassan says the Red Cross will not visit detainees unless the Syrian authorities agree to a certain set of conditions. This is still under negotiation. He says Red Cross delegates must be allowed to tour the premises, to talk in private with the detainees of their choice, and to repeat visits as often as necessary.

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