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The ICRC in Syria

01-07-2011 Overview

In response to the violence affecting Syria since March 2011, the ICRC works with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to meet basic needs, especially first aid. Present in Syria since 1967, the ICRC also works in the occupied Golan. Other activities include restoring family links between Syrians and relatives detained abroad and providing drinking water to drought-stricken villages in the north-east.

Since the current violence began in March 2011, the ICRC has been coordinating its response with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to deliver essential items such as first aid kits, stretchers, medical supplies and emergency response equipment. The two organizations have been cooperating with the Syrian Health Ministry.

In May and June 2011 the ICRC was the only international humanitarian organization allowed to access Dara'a, Homs and Tartous.  After ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger held two days of talks with senior Syrian officials, the authorities agreed in June to grant the ICRC wider access to areas and civilians affected by the unrest. The ICRC and SARC immediately organized visits to various affected areas to assess the humanitarian situation and provide assistance where needed.

Ongoing ICRC action

ICRC action in Syria also focuses on providing assistance and protection to Syrians living in the Golan, helping Syrian families maintain or restore contact with their loved ones, strengthening SARCs emergency response capacity, and providing clean drinking water to residents of the drought-stricken northeast.  

Since 1992, Syrians living in the occupied Golan have been unable to visit relatives living in other parts of Syria. While urging an end to this restriction, the ICRC facilitates travel by Golanese students and pilgrims to and from Damascus for academic or religious purposes. In addition, the ICRC organizes the crossing of humanitarian cases and the exchange of official documents between relatives.

It has also helped farmers in the occupied Golan boost their income by helping to transfer their apple harvest to Syrian markets. During the first quarter of 2011, the ICRC transferred the largest quantity of Golan apples since the operation began in 2005, a total of 12,000 tonnes.

Restoring family links

There is continued demand for ICRC assistance in maintaining and restoring family links between people living in Syria who seek to locate and re-establish contact with family members detained/interned or unaccounted for abroad – mainly in Iraq but also in Lebanon and the United States' internment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The ICRC also issues travel documents to refugees and stateless persons who have been accepted for resettlement in third countries.

The ICRC has a formal agreement with Syria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates and the State Ministry for Red Crescent Affairs to promote international humanitarian law (IHL) among government officials and diplomats, parliamentarians, academic and religious circles and the media. Cooperation also takes place with military training centres and with the Interior Ministry. The Syrian armed forces have incorporated IHL into their doctrine, training and operational orders; training continues for high level officers. Efforts continue to raise awareness of IHL and international human rights law among police and security forces.

Drought relief

The ICRC works in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), with the aim of strengthening the National Society’s capacities in the fields of first aid, restoring and maintaining family links, water, emergency response, communication and mine-risk education.

Since 2010, the two organizations have been providing clean drinking water every month to more than 21,000 people living in remote rural and desert areas of the drought-stricken northeast, using five tanker trucks donated to SARC. The water programme has expanded to include constructing water desalination plants, upgrading wells, water-harvesting ponds and underground reservoirs and rehabilitating existing micro dams on the Al-Khabur River.


Al-Qusayr, Homs governorate. A woman carries her child's remains. 

Al-Qusayr, Homs governorate. A woman carries her child's remains.
© ICRC / R. Garcia Vilanova / sy-e-00187