Egypt: support for health services and access to detainees are ICRC priorities

01-02-2011 Interview

One week into the protests that are shaking Egypt, the ICRC is working together with the Egyptian Red Crescent Society to gain a clearer picture of the humanitarian situation and the resulting needs. Eric Marclay, the ICRC's head of delegation ad interim, explains.

What can you tell us about the current situation in Egypt, and what are your main concerns?

We are closely following developments in Cairo and other major cities, particularly in terms of their humanitarian consequences. We remain in close contact with our partner, the Egyptian Red Crescent. We are also sharing information with other humanitarian organizations to make sure that the needs on the ground are understood and to coordinate any potential action.

We deplore the loss of life and injuries that have already occurred and that continue to occur. Because even larger demonstrations are expected to take place, we are concerned that there may be even more casualties. Despite the curfew imposed, there has been no let-up in protests. In residential neighbourhoods, people are organizing to protect their property from looters.

Both the authorities and the protesters have an obligation to respect life and human dignity at all times. It's important to reiterate this basic principle of humanity.

Is the ICRC planning to visit the people arrested during the recent clashes?

Reports that hundreds of people have been arrested since the demonstrations began are another matter of concern. So far, the exact numbers remain unconfirmed. We have offered our services to the Egyptian authorities to carry out visits to detainees, including to people arrested in connection with the current events, to assess their conditions of detention and their treatment. We are already visiting detainees in a number of other countries across the world and in the region, notably in Tunisia. Our findings and observations are shared solely with the authorities concerned.

What are the most pressing needs that require immediate action?

There have been reports of wounded people who were unable to get to a hospital quickly enough. First-aid posts have had to be improvised in neighbourhoods.

A basic principle of humanity holds that the sick and wounded – like medical personnel, vehicles and facilities – must be spared the effects of the disturbances. Everything feasible must be done to ensure that suitable medical care is provided in a timely manner for all those who require it.

With the Egyptian Red Crescent we have agreed on how we can best meet needs, particularly in terms of first aid and emergency medical services. We stand ready to assist the Egyptian Red Crescent. We have also informed Egypt's health ministry that we are prepared to provide medical services and expertise.

What activities are the ICRC and the Egyptian Red Crescent carrying out in the country?

Our first priority now is to gain a clearer picture of what is needed in terms of medical services and visits to detainees. We are also stepping up our efforts to help people in Egypt, especially refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa, to keep in touch with relatives abroad.

A team of specialists has just arrived in the country to support our staff already on the ground. This will bring the number of our staff in the country to 46, including seven expatriates. They are facing significant challenges, as the ongoing unrest makes it difficult to move around in Cairo, where the ICRC's delegation is based. On top of that, the disruption of certain means of communication adds to the difficulties.

The ICRC delegation in Cairo has also been serving as a regional centre promoting the national implementation of international humanitarian law and its incorporation into military training and academic curricula in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

Finally, the ICRC, in cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, provides support for the Egyptian Red Crescent and has helped it establish a contingency plan for possible emergencies at the frontier with the Gaza Strip.



Eric Marclay

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