What does the ICRC do in the UK and Ireland?

25 October 2012
What does the ICRC do in the UK and Ireland?
Photo: ICRC / L. Sturdy

The mission's principal role is to explain the work of the ICRC and build support for its humanitarian activities. It talks directly to the British and Irish governments, outlining its approach to protecting and assisting those left vulnerable by violent conflict. And it fosters understanding for ICRC policies through dialogue with legislators, officials, policy-makers, academics and non-profit organizations.

The ICRC engages directly in humanitarian work in Northern Ireland by supporting grassroots groups that work to reduce violence or the threat of violence. And the mission supports ICRC teams in places like Afghanistan, Somalia or Libya through discussion with the UK military (which may be operating on the ground), by liaising with diaspora groups and by explaining our work to the public.

The ICRC's headquarters are in Geneva. Why does the ICRC consider it important to have an office in London?

The UK has a strong voice in international affairs, not least through its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. That makes it vital for the ICRC to have direct contact with policy-makers, top officials and legislators to build support for our neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian activity in places suffering conflict or its consequences.

Equally, London is a significant media hub, where the ICRC has the opportunity to make its voice heard on the airwaves. Through interviews, briefings, events and social media the ICRC explains the challenges it faces in hazardous locations, makes the case for helping those who cannot help themselves, and urges respect for international humanitarian law.

London is also home to a thriving community of humanitarian organizations, think-tanks and internationally-focused universities. The ICRC helps to shape their debate on humanitarian needs arising from the changing nature of crisis and conflict in the 21st century.

What do you do in Northern Ireland?

The ICRC conducted an assessment of humanitarian needs in Northern Ireland in 2010 and opened an office in Belfast in April 2011. The assessment concluded that the ICRC's independent and confidential approach could help address the legacy of the Troubles and the consequences of persisting strife. Currently the ICRC is working with grassroots organizations in Belfast and Londonderry/Derry that seek to ease sectarian tension or to limit violence or the threat of violence within particular communities. You can find out more about what the ICRC does in Northern Ireland here

What's the history of the ICRC in the UK and Ireland?

The ICRC was active in the UK during and after World War Two, visiting German prisoners of war. In 1958, it began visiting people detained in connection with violent opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland. Visits to Northern Irish prisons took place from 1971-1975 and again from 1981-1999. The ICRC opened a London office in 2003, at the time of the UK/US invasion of Iraq. The London mission took formal responsibility for liaising with the Irish government in 2012.

What does it cost to run the ICRC operation in the UK and Ireland? Who pays for it?

The ICRC's annual report details the cost of each of its operations worldwide. Please see the section of the 2013 annual report that deals with the London mission.

The ICRC relies entirely on the generous support of donors, principally governments, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and supra-national organizations such as the European Commission.

What's your relationship with the British Red Cross and the Irish Red Cross?

The British Red Cross is the national Red Cross society for the United Kingdom, while the Irish Red Cross is its equivalent in Ireland. National Societies and the ICRC are all part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the largest humanitarian network in the world.

The British Red Cross has an extensive partnership with the ICRC, and the two organizations work together on projects in the field and on policy issues such as international humanitarian law. They also support each other in areas such as recruitment and funding. The British and Irish Red Cross societies are well known in their respective countries for their fundraising, first-aid, emergency, health and social care work.