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Syria: Urgent humanitarian action is needed now

12-11-2013 Press Briefing

At a press conference held in Sydney on 11 November, leaders of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement expressed serious concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria. ICRC President Peter Maurer made an urgent appeal for immediate humanitarian action. Below is a summary of the main points he raised.

Almost three years after the start of the conflict, the human tragedy is worsening and no end is in sight. This very violent conflict has not spared anyone and civilians are paying an unacceptable price.

The health system is collapsing. Many are dying because of the lack of medical supplies or because they cannot get to medical facilities to be treated. There is still not even the most basic respect for medical personnel and structures. Medical facilities, ambulances, health personnel and humanitarian workers are often targeted.

Volunteers from our partners in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent regularly come under attack while attempting to bring aid or evacuate the wounded. A total of 31 volunteers and staff have lost their lives so far while on duty. Despite all our calls to the parties to the conflict to respect the people's right to medical care without any discrimination, we are not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.

Whatever happens from now on, Syria will be remembered as the conflict where the basic right of the wounded and the sick to receive treatment was routinely ignored. Urgent action is needed now.

Humanitarian aid and ICRC personnel are often denied access outright, or allowed only limited access, to the hardest-hit areas.

It is equally urgent that there be improved access to besieged areas and towns – not merely partial evacuations of civilians, but independent access by humanitarian agencies to people in need.

In besieged areas, many civilians have not had proper access to food, water, medical care or electricity for more than a year. We are hearing about people, mainly children, starving to death.

If their situation is terrible now, it's going to get worse. Winter is coming, the third since the start of the conflict. Houses are without heat, electricity and water. In many cases people no longer even have a roof over their heads.

Thousands of families are desperately looking for their missing or detained relatives. So far, our unrelenting efforts to visit detained people have failed to meet with success. But we will not give up. Visiting detainees remains among our top priorities.

We witnessed a very laudable international mobilization on the issue of chemical weapons.  We now need similar focused action to bring pressure on all sides to ensure that civilians are not targeted, that they receive the humanitarian assistance – including aid for the wounded – they so desperately need, and that the wounded and the sick on all sides receive the care to which they are entitled under international law.

We are determined to help, and to expand our response, but we can only work when government forces and the armed opposition accept our humanitarian role. Without safe access, we cannot reach the people who are in greatest need. All sides must take concrete measures to ensure our safety – the safety of Red Cross and Red Crescent personnel – and that of the people we assist. In Syria today, there is a dire need for respect for the basic principles of humanity.