Syria: victims of violence cut off from outside aid
Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo is the ICRC's head of operations for the Near East and Middle East. She talks about the situation in Syria, the ICRC’s main concerns and what the organization is doing to help.
What is the current situation and what are your main concerns?
We are following the situation closely, but it is difficult to get a full picture. The information we have is limited and sometimes difficult to verify independently, as access remains very limited, notably to the cities where the demonstrations are taking place. There have been reports of many arrests, which is worrying. Thursdays have been days of concern, and Fridays are generally days of mourning, both in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
The ICRC is particularly concerned about three points at the moment.
Firstly, it is reported that large numbers of people have been detained.
Secondly, the use of force is resulting in many casualties, particularly on Fridays. All those involved in the violence must respect human life and dignity at all times and must exercise maximum restraint.
Thirdly, medical personnel and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers providing first aid and evacuating the injured must be allowed to carry out their life-saving tasks. Access to the injured must not be arbitrarily obstructed and everyone must allow ambulances, other vehicles and facilities to perform their humanitarian duties.
These concerns also apply to other countries in the region, particularly Yemen and Bahrain. While the situation in each country is different, the common factors are the way in which force is being used, attacks on medical services and failure to allow them to do their job of saving lives.
What are you doing to help people detained in connection with unrest in the region?
Unfortunately, we do not have access to detainees in Syria, nor is it possible to get an independent idea as to how many people are being held. We are conducting visits in other countries of the region, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Yemen, and we hope that we will soon be able to start visiting detainees in Bahrain. We are currently talking to the Syrian government about the possibility of detention visits in Syria but I can't elaborate on the details of our negotiations, as this is part of our confidential dialogue with the authorities.
What I can say is that we have repeatedly expressed our willingness to offer our expertise in detention matters. We strongly believe that visits by the ICRC could reduce tension, if only by reassuring families who are worried about the fate of their next-of-kin.
What are you doing for people affected by the violence?
We have been able to achieve very little so far compared to the needs, but what we have been able to do has largely been made possible by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. They are deeply rooted in Syrian society and have an extended network of committed staff and volunteers, who are doing a great job. We are working closely together with them on the ground, and this is a great asset.
According to our information, the most urgently needed items are first aid and other medical supplies, food and water. Our aim is to bring help to all those who need it. To achieve this, we must have access to the places where demonstrations are taking place, because that’s where the casualties are.
So far, we have been able to visit Daraa once, together with the Syrian Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, but it has not been possible for us to get to Homs, Banyas or anywhere else. However, we are continuing our discussions with the Syrian authorities and we hope that by early next week we will be able to visit these places with the Syrian Red Crescent and deliver food, baby milk and first-aid supplies. While the ICRC is still awaiting access to these locations, the Syrian Red Crescent has been busy delivering food and other items and evacuating casualties.