Egypt: Creation of emergency action teams was timely
Egyptian Red Crescent emergency action teams helped evacuate and treat many wounded people during the recent clashes. Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Cairo, comments on the unwavering commitment demonstrated by the teams despite the volatile situation faced at the time.
What is the current situation in Egypt, and what are your main concerns about it?
It was very worrying to witness the intensity of the violence that rocked the country in July and August, when hundreds were killed and thousands more wounded. At the height of the incidents, our main concern was that everyone involved in the clashes should show respect for human life and dignity. The sudden influx of so many severely wounded people, and their need to obtain medical care, were other matters that we followed closely. At present, the situation is much calmer than it was in mid-August, and we hope that Egypt will be spared further violence.
What support have you been able to provide for the wounded?
We did not have ICRC medical personnel in the country at the time of the clashes. However, since 2011, the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been helping the Egyptian Red Crescent Society to set up and train some 30 emergency action teams and supplying them regularly with first-aid supplies and wound-dressing materials.
Recently, we provided the Egyptian Red Crescent with additional equipment and material as well as five vehicles to facilitate the deployment of their emergency action teams whenever violence breaks out. We also helped the Egyptian Red Crescent upgrade one of its buildings, in which it runs its blood bank, a physiotherapy unit and a youth centre. The building had been damaged by fire during clashes in August.
The emergency action teams have provided services for injured people at countless demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and other cities. Since November 2011, they have administered first aid to over 4,000 injured people – over 800 of them during the most recent events. In sometimes dangerous conditions, Egyptian Red Crescent volunteers have worked side by side with ambulance drivers, medical doctors, nurses and other health staff from governmental and field hospitals to evacuate the injured, regardless of their political affiliation. Their selfless and impartial commitment is highly commendable.
Does the ICRC visit people detained in connection with the current situation?
No, we are not currently visiting detainees in Egypt. We do not have precise figures but, according to public reports, hundreds of people have been arrested and detained over the past few weeks, which is a matter of concern to us.
The aim of ICRC visits in the 97 countries worldwide where we do visit detainees is purely humanitarian. Our offer to visit detainees and ensure that they are held in suitable conditions and that they receive humane treatment has been part of our ongoing dialogue with the Egyptian authorities for several years now, including during the events of 2011 and 2013. It is based on the ICRC’s humanitarian right of initiative, in accordance with the mandate conferred on our organization by the community of States, set out in the statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is standard practice to share our findings and observations only with the authorities concerned.
What are your priorities right now and in the near future?
The events of the past few months have shown that the decision to set up emergency action teams was timely and appropriate. Over the coming weeks, we will help the Egyptian Red Crescent to train another 30 teams throughout the country. Although we of course hope that there will be no more violence, the ICRC is ready to explore the possibility to support the health authorities in their efforts to provide care for the victims of any further violent incidents, should they occur. We will also continue our confidential discussions with the transitional government on the issue of visiting persons detained in connection with the events.