The International Red Cross is appealing for the immediate, unconditional release of all the people who were abducted Sunday from the offices of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society in Baghdad. About 30 Red Crescent staff members and volunteers, as well as several visitors were seized by unknown gunmen. Thirteen people were later freed. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.
A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Antonella Notari, says the gunmen are holding seven Iraqi Red Crescent staff members and several other people. She says the organization is very concerned about their safety.
She praises the Iraqi Red Crescent for providing humanitarian assistance throughout the country under dangerous circumstances. She tells VOA these aid workers often pay a very high price for their commitment.
"In the end, if harm is done to the Iraqi Red Crescent, it will hamper their work," she said. "It will hamper the kind of assistance and support work they can bring, they can do for the Iraqi population. So, everybody in the end will suffer the consequences of such a harm, So, we are now hopeful that this will have an influence on the thinking and on the actions of the kidnappers."
The Iraqi Red Crescent is the only humanitarian organization that works across the country's 18 provinces. It has a staff of 1,000 and 200,000 volunteers. They provide a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise have little means of survival.
The Red Crescent suspended its operations in Baghdad after the abductions. The office remains closed, but humanitarian assistance programs are continuing throughout the rest of the country.
Notari says the office in Baghdad provides several vital services that are on hold. She says several visitors who had come to the office seeking help are among those being held hostage.
"Visitors that go to the Iraqi Red Crescent offices often go for purposes of tracing because they have lost contact with close members of their family," she explained. "The Iraqi Red Crescent helps us in the delivery of Red Cross messages that we go and gather in the prisons in Iraq. They help us deliver those messages to the families and also get the messages from the families to us so that we can take them to the prisoners."
Notari says the Red Crescent provides an enormous service to people who have been forced to flee their homes. She says the organization provides basic material support, including blankets, kitchen utensils, and food deliveries.