International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc The website of the international Red Cross Red Crescent Movement Wed, 05 Aug 2020 22:28:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 Peru: “Being a nurse allows me to share, talk and get to know the needs of migrants” https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/08/05/peru-nurse-allows-share-talk-get-know-needs-migrants/ Wed, 05 Aug 2020 21:59:07 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67391 Andres Yares has been a volunteer for the Peruvian Red Cross over seventeen years, and since 2019 he has been supporting as a nurse in health activities directed at migrants. “In 2019 I started working in this project, helping in the community health days. We visited many districts on the outskirts of Lima, where there […]

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Andres Yares has been a volunteer for the Peruvian Red Cross over seventeen years, and since 2019 he has been supporting as a nurse in health activities directed at migrants. “In 2019 I started working in this project, helping in the community health days. We visited many districts on the outskirts of Lima, where there were not only migrants, but also local people in great need, and we gave medical attention to everyone”, says Andres. “For me it is important to work with migrants because they are people who, in addition to not being in their country, have many unmet needs. Many of them do not have access to health care or have had to stop their treatments because a medical appointment was too expensive for them.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peru has kept his borders closed from March 16 to date. Hundreds of migrants who were on transit have been unable to leave the country. Also, many of them who are already established in the country have run out of sources of income, so they cannot cover expenses such as rent. A large percentage of these migrants don’t have access to the Peruvian health system, and in a context such as COVID-19, they are left unprotected, increasing their health risks.

For this reason, since April 03, the Red Cross has been providing health care in different shelters in various districts of Lima, the capital of Peru, which is home to approximately 80% Venezuelan migrants who are in the country.

Since March, the community health days had to take a turn, since the country was quarantined for more than three months. So, Andres, together with the project team, began visiting different shelters where migrants and refuge applicants of nationalities stayed.

“Something that stands out a lot of my work, beyond the medical care, is be able to share, talk with them, about their needs, concerns, and to understand the way how they see things and their customs. In my work I talk to many people and that has left a mark on me. In the shelters we have given medical attention to people from different countries such as Venezuela, Haiti, Nigeria. It’s incredible to see how, if you want, you can communicate with everyone, and get to know them. We communicated with people who didn’t speak Spanish by signs, or with a translation app from the cell phone. That way you could make them feel love and affection and they were very grateful”, says Andres who today works giving information about COVID-19 through the WhatsApp Line that the Red Cross has implemented in Peru.

From April to date, the Red Cross, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided more than 500 health services in shelters located in six districts of Lima, Peru, as well as health information, with emphasis on preventive measures against COVID-19.

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Beirut disaster: Lebanese Red Cross responds to port explosion https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/08/05/beirut-disaster-lebanese-red-cross-responds-port-explosion/ Wed, 05 Aug 2020 11:22:12 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67364 Hundreds of Lebanese Red Cross emergency medical personnel and 75 ambulances are still at the scene of yesterday’s devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut, looking for survivors and rushing injured people to hospital for life-saving treatment. More than 100 people are feared dead and thousands were injured in the disaster, and many people are […]

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Hundreds of Lebanese Red Cross emergency medical personnel and 75 ambulances are still at the scene of yesterday’s devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut, looking for survivors and rushing injured people to hospital for life-saving treatment.

More than 100 people are feared dead and thousands were injured in the disaster, and many people are still missing. The Lebanese Red Cross has set up triage and first aid stations to ensure that people with non-critical injuries can be treated and comforted while the worst-affected survivors are being taken to hospital.

The blast rippled through several areas of the capital, shattering windows and doors, and wounding many people. There are reports of significant damage to structures in the nearby downtown area – mostly broken windows due to the blast and collapsing balconies.

The Jordanian Seismological Observatory has estimated that the explosion was equivalent to a 4.5 magnitude earthquake, and the sound of the blast could be heard as far away as Cyprus, located 240km away in the Mediterranean Sea. The cause of the disaster remains unclear and investigations are still underway.

You can support the Lebanese Red Cross’ disaster response work here.

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IFRC provides largest single-cash transfer to respond to the socio-economic needs amid COVID-19 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/08/04/ifrc-provides-largest-single-cash-transfer-respond-socio-economic-needs-amid-covid-19/ Tue, 04 Aug 2020 08:22:17 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67251 COVID-19 has had a devastating impact around the world, including a major economic gap that many families are struggling to overcome. For refugees, COVID-19 is only exacerbating already existing vulnerabilities, losing the little income they earn and forcing them to cut down on food, medicine and other basic needs. A survey conducted by Turkish Red […]

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COVID-19 has had a devastating impact around the world, including a major economic gap that many families are struggling to overcome. For refugees, COVID-19 is only exacerbating already existing vulnerabilities, losing the little income they earn and forcing them to cut down on food, medicine and other basic needs.

A survey conducted by Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) and IFRC among 500 refugees showed that 70 per cent lost their livelihoods since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Turkey. This, combined with almost 80 per cent reported an increase in expenses, had left them with the frequently referred option of borrowing money to meet their basic needs.

In order to address the COVID-19 socio-economic impact, more than 1.7 million refugees living in Turkey are receiving additional cash assistance through European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) implemented by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the TRC. This marks the largest single cash transfer in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s history, totalling EUR 46.4 million. Each family will receive an additional 1,000 Turkish Lira, approximately EUR 128. This is not an added grant, rather reallocated funds from the existing ESSN budget, funded by the EU.

This is part of the Federation-wide emergency appeal for 1,9 billion Swiss francs to help the world’s most vulnerable communities halt the spread of COVID-19 and recover from its effects.

“Because of the coronavirus, our expenses have increased for water, electricity and cleaning products,” said Hanan, a Syrian refugee who fled the war to come to Turkey in 2014. “The Kizilaykart helps me with house expenses, such as food, cleaning materials and other expenses.”

“We are mentally exhausted… This period has exhausted us,” added one refugee receiving support from the ESSN.

The additional cash assistance has taken place over June and July, followed by a regular quarterly cash top-up in August, enabling vulnerable refugee families to overcome the constraints imposed by COVID-19 during this difficult transition period.

“Many people are in survival mode – living hand to mouth during COVID-19. This cash assistance has been a lifeline, allowing them to provide for themselves and their families,” said Jonathan Brass, IFRC’s operations manager for the ESSN in Turkey.

“Cash, particular in times like COVID-19, provides immediate and flexible aid for families to prioritize their needs. It gives them a sense of security, certainty and confidence that their children will not go hungry.”

Cash assistance stands as one of the most efficient ways to support vulnerable communities due to its quick, safe and reliable delivery. Because the cash is being sent to refugees via the digital banking system, it also limits the risk of infection to those we serve. Additionally, cash increases investments in local markets, supports host communities which may also negatively affected by COVID-19 and give freedom and flexibility to families to meet their own individual needs.

Learn more about ESSN here.

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A volunteer on wheels in the fight against the pandemic https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/08/03/volunteer-wheels-fight-pandemic/ Mon, 03 Aug 2020 16:15:16 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67346 By Olivia Acosta. Gina Mejia is 27 years old, an architect by profession, and has been a volunteer with the Mexican Red Cross for three years in Mexico City, the country’s capital, a city with a population of nearly nine million. According to Gina, she has always felt the impulse to support those who need […]

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By Olivia Acosta.

Gina Mejia is 27 years old, an architect by profession, and has been a volunteer with the Mexican Red Cross for three years in Mexico City, the country’s capital, a city with a population of nearly nine million.

According to Gina, she has always felt the impulse to support those who need it most: “I have always had the spark to help and on many occasions, when I was working as an architect on construction sites, I thought: if I have an accident, I really wouldn’t know how to act to help the injured person”. And that is how she decided to join the Red Cross and started first aid training. She has even given courses in her company and always makes her colleagues and friends aware of the importance of first aid. Later, she joined “Volunteers on Wheels”, a solidarity programme that she carries out together with other 20 volunteer colleagues, travelling all over the city by motorbike. “I have my own bike and the programme consists of going around different areas of the city, together with other volunteers, to support the people who need it most. For example, we distribute bread and coffee in the hospitals and slums, or we distribute toys to children from poor families.

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything changed, including the “Volunteers on Wheels” programme in which Gina participates: “At the Red Cross, we quickly identified the need to provide information and protective measures to the population, especially to people with few resources who spend a lot of time on the street, such as street food vendors”. And so she and her colleagues began to ride their motorcycles around the city, this time to take the temperature in the markets, distribute masks (or “mouth covers” as they say in Mexico) and hydroalcoholic gels, as well as offer truthful information and advice on how to protect themselves against the virus.

Initially, many people didn’t wear masks because they didn’t really know how important it was to protect themselves against the pandemic. According to Gina: “We realized that a lot of awareness raising was needed to explain to people the importance of protecting themselves against COVID-19 and to offer protective measures. The Mexican Red Cross is a reference organization in the country and we noticed that if we were the ones who advised them to wear a mask or respect distances, they would listen to us,” she says proudly.

The volunteers of the Mexican Red Cross protect themselves with all the protective measures they need to carry out their work safely. And they know where to go to help those who need it most. In addition to crowded areas such as hospitals and markets, one of the points on her route is the “Glorieta de Insurgentes”. There are palapas that offer access to wifi and it is an area where many people with few resources gather, which means a high risk of contagion. Many of these people live on the streets. According to Gina: “It’s very nice to see how homeless people come to us to ask for masks and ask us about how to protect themselves against the pandemic. Many of them ask us for more than one, because at the beginning there was a shortage and also they cannot buy them, and they are very grateful when we give them the masks and they can put them on”.

“For me, being able to help at this time, even if it seems like a small thing, is very important, and now I know that the work of Red Cross volunteers is crucial in a situation like this,” concludes Gina. Now more than ever, she says, it is clear to her that she will stay with the Red Cross forever.

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Suffering from COVID-19 in Utter Isolation, An ERCS Volunteer Tells His Story https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/30/suffering-covid-19-utter-isolation-ercs-volunteer-tells-story/ Thu, 30 Jul 2020 12:51:22 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67319 Randa El Ozeir: One of the greatest challenges is to live a lonely fortnight on the lookout for your body vital functions undeviatingly, stranded in a tiny apartment situated in a bustling, lively, and populous city. In a heart-to-heart interview that delved into his story of contracting COVID-19, Mostafa Refaat Nagy, the Youth Representative Board […]

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Randa El Ozeir: One of the greatest challenges is to live a lonely fortnight on the lookout for your body vital functions undeviatingly, stranded in a tiny apartment situated in a bustling, lively, and populous city.

In a heart-to-heart interview that delved into his story of contracting COVID-19, Mostafa Refaat Nagy, the Youth Representative Board member in the Egyptian Red Crescent Society (ERCS) at Dakahlia Branch and the volunteer in Central Operation Room in the ERCS’ headquarters in Cairo, recounted how the hours of the 14 days passed full of worry and apprehensiveness. “I stayed home with absolutely no human contact for fear of transmitting the infection to others. I spent my time alternating between awakening and slumbering, swept by waves of obsession and frightfulness while monitoring my symptoms’ progress day in day out. Have I had an increase of coughs today? Has my body temperature gone higher? Am I going to wake up to a temperature exceeding 38 degrees Celsius? I measured my temperature three to four times daily. And I was often wondering if what I was experiencing would be considered within the normal range or have things escalated”.

The quarantine period for Nagy in Cairo went by with him isolating himself from his parents and colleagues, exclusively relying on the Emotional Support Team in the ERCS. He said, “I didn’t want to get my parents worried, so I cancelled my weekly visit to their house, as well as refraining from spreading the news among my colleagues in the Society, excluding my superiors. I didn’t want for the colleagues who kept on doing their field missions to be held back by their leader’s infection, namely the younger group. I received a daily follow-up call from the Emotional Support Team that helped me to hang in there. They were my lifejacket, and I know well the primordial role of the emotional state during the isolation. At times, boredom started to take hold of me with their frequent calls, but I was grateful. They saved me from frustration and excessive anxiety and lifted my spirits. Also, they swiftly provided me with prevention measures, such as face masks. It was an extremely awful feeling that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone”.

Even after recovering and going back to work, Nagy feels the scare with every on-the-ground mission. He resorts to his inner voice to regain self-control and leans on protection measures and safety guidelines. He believes that “the team and group spirit strengthens us when we are working with people. My life is devoted to ERCS and I give it my all. With the time, we became more vigilant in our behaviours and actions and left behind any carelessness that puts us at risk. The situation has changed now, and I grew to be more concerned about myself and my team. We certainly know that we are at risk given the nature of our job, even if we get it (contracting the virus) by chance. We realize our true message when serving the people in need, however small that service could be. It is not about delivering aid boxes or sterilizing tools, it is also about offering others a sense of reassurance our uniform radiates whenever we are present”.

In a hindsight, Nagy remembered how the ERCS was prepared for the worst case scenario since the onset of COVID-19. The ERCS, via its Central Operation Room, has embarked on monitoring and tracking the very first cases, including the mild ones. It has focused as well on awareness and sterilizing campaigns, aid interventions, distribution of disinfectants and personal hygiene stuff, and provision of food for the poor communities in the capital city and throughout all the country’s governorates with no exception. He said, “the ERCS visits the hospitals to support the medical teams and deliver thank-you notes. I was able, through my job in the Board at Dakahlia Branch, to closely understand the needs and concerns of the youth volunteers. And I coordinated between the volunteer field teams and the Central Operation Room”.

The ERCS doesn’t have any shortage in the number of volunteers or the individuals who are willing to volunteer. Gearing up the energetic youth volunteers with the indispensable equipment and tools and offering them the required training to properly perform their job are what the ERCS actually need. “There is an increasing demand now with COVID-19 for equipping hospitals and setting field hospitals in many places, such as Al-Fayoum, Ismailia, and Ash Sharqia”, explained Nagy, “we only have one mobile clinic so far, but the situation calls for much more than this. Whatever is available for us, we would need more, particularly to respond to the necessities of the African, Syrian, and other refugee communities. We are perhaps the only party that provides them with services along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM)”.

 

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World Friendship Day: Turkish and refugee children share letters and drawings with the ones they love https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/30/letters-turkish-refugee-children-exchange-letters-friendship/ Thu, 30 Jul 2020 07:00:44 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67177 COVID-19 may be preventing us from connecting with the ones we love the way we want to, but it has allowed us to appreciate and treasure each other that much more. This World Friendship Day, we asked Turkish, Syrian and Yemenis children in 5 different cities to connect with their best friend by sending them a […]

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COVID-19 may be preventing us from connecting with the ones we love the way we want to, but it has allowed us to appreciate and treasure each other that much more. This World Friendship Day, we asked Turkish, Syrian and Yemenis children in 5 different cities to connect with their best friend by sending them a drawing or letter.

Here is what they said.

Omar’s letter:

“My lovely friend,

Hello, how are you? I haven’t seen you for two months. How is your family?  Which places did you go to?  What did you do during the holidays? I am reading Qur’an and attending some courses. I watch TV and played with my sibling during the holidays. I missed you so much. You have been my best friend. I learned Turkish from you. You always helped me with classes at school. You are a very good person. Thank you for being my friend.

Your friend,
Ömer

 

Arda’s letter:

“My dear friend,

I’m so happy that I met such a person like you. You are a very good friend and you will be my friend forever. I wouldn’t know the real meaning of friendship without you. I love you most for this. I am proud of you so much that I don’t even need another friend. Because you have been my best friend. Always remember that I love you so much because I won’t forget you.

Your dear friend.”

Zeyneb’s letter:

“Dear sister,
Even if we weren’t born in the same territories, we don’t speak the same language, even if our skin colours are not the same…
We smile together under the same sky and the same sun with our eyes full of love.
With the most strong chord that bound us to each other, love and friendship.
I love you my friend, my sister
With love,
Zeyneb”

 

Enas’ letter:

“Friends are a gift from God.
There are two kinds of friends. A good friend and a bad friend. The poorest person is the one who doesn’t have any friends.
Roses die, irons can be broken but friendships never die and get broken. Finding the right friend with morals is important for my future.
My friend, I hope my words get to you. You were my best friend to me but if there were no separation, I wouldn’t stop my friendship with you. You were the only friend who is noble and with whom I don’t want to separate. Some people say best friends are those who stay apart so that they can keep their friendship.
I love you, my dear friend.
Enas”

Text on the drawing reads: A person who has no friend is a poor person (top left). The real friendships are like stars, they are only visible when there is darkness (top right). Roses, tulips and all the other flowers die eventually. Iron and steel get broken but stay strong. Friendships never die or get broken (bottom left). Friendship doesn’t have to be about being close to each other, the important thing is hearts being close to each other (bottom right). 

 

Children across Turkey – some wearing a Syrian flag and others a Turkish flag, live happily together in while a migratory bird brings them balloons. (Drawing: Şuğra)

Adnen’s letter:

“My dear friend Şuğra,

I love you so much. I am giving you a present at this time. We spend a great time together.
You are a sibling to me.”

The text on the drawing reads: “My friend, I love you, my dearest friend.” (Drawing: Adnen)

Letters written by Ahmed (L) and Efe (R) about the story of their friendship. (Photos: Ahmed, Efe )

Ahmed’s letter:

“To my dear friend,

I love you very much. I’m having so much fun when I’m playing and talking with you. As our ancestors say, ‘tell me about your friend and let me tell you who you are’. When I first met you, I hit your head with a ball. We used to fight but always make peace in the end. We always sat together since our first year at school. Our teacher would sometimes be angry at us, but we never got angry with each other. We were in the same classroom for 4 years, my dear friend Efe. I am so happy that we are friends.

Ahmed”

Efe’s letter:

“Hello Ahmet,

Today, I am writing a letter to the person with whom I became friends after starting to live in a different city and neighbourhood. I mean, to you 😊.

Do you remember? Our friendship started after the football you were playing with hit my head 😊 Later we always ran after that football together with you. We also took our new friends with us. In our first year at school, we always sat together and shared our food. I even came to your house one night and we jumped on the bed until we get tired 😊.

We were getting along with each other so well. Maybe we understood each other better as we both came to a new city and atmosphere. I taught you folk dances and you taught me the soldier game. We still play when we are together. To whomever I told about the game, they liked it.

In the game, everyone would hold their own hand. The one starting the game would sing the song ‘’Soldiers eat tomatoes, whom they want to shoot’’ Whoever is there when the song ends would choose someone and touch another one. The game used to go on until everyone is dismissed. Close friends could give life to each other. We always gave life to each other and tried to stay in the game.
The fourth grade has ended. We will start at secondary school. You will go to imam hatip secondary school and I will go to another one.

Maybe our schools are separated now, but we keep giving life to each other and staying in the game. Because we are getting along with each other so well. I’m happy that we met. You are a great friend. I didn’t know that a football hitting my head would let me meet my best friend. I hope we will play more football games in which we run after the same football with you. Take care of yourself. If you can’t, my all lives are yours, you know it! Goodbye…

Your best friend, Efe “


Two children, holding Syrian and Turkish flags, join hands while larger Turkish (left) and Syrian (right) flags are seen in this drawing. (Drawing: Emine)

Emine’s letter:

“Hi,
I hope you are fine. While writing this letter, I want to tell you that I miss you so much. You are not a foreigner but siblings to us. One doesn’t need to share the same blood tie to be siblings. Love is a feeling that doesn’t require a kindred ship or being born from the same mother and father. Friendship is so important. Please take care.
Goodbye.”

Letter written by Mohammed in Turkish in an address to Emine is shown in this photo. (Photos: Mohammed)

Mohammed’s letter:

“Hi Emine,
First of all, I want you to know how happy I become while reading your letter. I also miss you so much. You are also our brothers and sisters. We love you so much. We are so happy to be with you. Please also take care,
Cheers”

Two stick girls are standing next to a building, label as “school” in Turkish in this drawing, accompanied by a heart-shaped eyes emoji on the right side. (Drawing: Rüyanaz)

Rüyanaz’s letter:

“My dear friend Lima,
I love you so much. Schools were closed. I missed you and my teacher very much. We used to play games and spend good time together. I hope coronavirus goes away and w ego back to our school. I love you my dear friend Lima. Take care of yourself. Kisses, hope to see you soon.
Goodbye.”

Two girls holding flowers standing next to an apple tree while the sun is shining, birds fly by and a turtle wanders around flowers. (Drawing: Lima)

Lima’s letter:

“Rüyanaz,
I love you so much. You are my best friend at school.
I loved you when I first saw you. I missed you, my school, my teacher and my friends so much.
I hope coronavirus goes away and we go back to our school.”

Two girls are hugging each other in this drawing marked with the painter’s name; Meysem at the bottom. (Drawing: Meysem)

Meysem’s letter:

“I am writing a letter to Hatice with my all feelings.
To my most beautiful, sweetest and honest friend.
You are my relative and sister in humanity.
I write all these words by being faithful to the beautiful says we spent together and our love.
My friend Hatice, I want to tell you that you are so important to me.
My papers are beautiful when they are filled with your name. We are friends forever.”


Two girls, sitting close to each other on a tree branch, watch birds fly by. (Drawing: Elif)

Elif’s letter:

“Dear Syrian friend,
First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Elif Nur and my last name is Onakbaş, I am 13 years old. I really love reading books and spending time with my friends. We may face some changes in our lives but this is the rule of life. We had experienced malice called COVID-19 and that led us to be separated from each other. However, I think friendship is about feeling that love in our hearts even if there is a distance between us. Please don’t forget this! Good and peaceful days will come one day for sure. I am hoping to see you in this beautiful and peaceful times.
Your loving friend,
Elif”


Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC are helping to normalize the lives of many refugees and host communities, including children, in Turkey. These children benefit from the Turkish Red Crescent Community Centres, funded by European Union Trust Fund MADAD, and some receive support from the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), funded by the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

This article covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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Syria: Dying from hunger, conflict or COVID-19 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/28/syria-dying-hunger-conflict-covid-19/ Tue, 28 Jul 2020 10:07:08 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67157 Photo: IFRC MENA Regional Director ElSharkawi signs the status agreement with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic Op-Ed by Dr. Hossam ElSharkawi, IFRC MENA Regional Director, Twitter @Elsharkawi They were perhaps two thousand stranded Syria returnees. Women, children and men sheltering from the unbearable heat and sun, on hill tops, under the scattered olive trees offering […]

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Photo: IFRC MENA Regional Director ElSharkawi signs the status agreement with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic

Op-Ed by Dr. Hossam ElSharkawi, IFRC MENA Regional Director, Twitter @Elsharkawi

They were perhaps two thousand stranded Syria returnees. Women, children and men sheltering from the unbearable heat and sun, on hill tops, under the scattered olive trees offering no shadow, carrying half empty jerrycans with water and waving at cars asking for help.

This is not a scene from a Hollywood movie.

This is at the No-Man’s-Land zone between the Syrian Lebanese borders; a stretch of a few kilometres in which people are stuck in the COVID-19 politics or the legal meanders of return.  As if the 9 years of an unrelenting conflict, homelessness, and agony in all forms were not enough.  Regardless of root causes as to what got people here, it encapsulates the cruelty of war and the pandemic.

A few days ago, I traveled to Syria from Lebanon by land, crossing a border closed for citizens but open for humanitarian organizations including the Red Cross and Red Crescent personnel.  I saw the same people in the same place under the scorching sun several days later on my way back after visiting Damascus.  Some have had their legal entry sorted out. Others are still out there sleeping under the open sky. As I write, my colleagues in Syria are looking for ways to assist those that may still be stranded.

Syrians are now hit by another wave of suffering: economic collapse, sanctions, hyperinflation, rising unemployment, businesses that barely survived the conflict are now shutting down, more hunger with families skipping meals, and shortages of medicine.   

The devaluation of the local currency, the constraints and the blockage of international transfer of money are driving Syrians to extreme poverty.  Syrian sons and daughters living abroad are experiencing serious challenges to send the 100 or 200 dollars, to parents who are still living in Syria.  The impact is catastrophic.

Concretely, what does this mean?

It means, your 70-year-old mother, will no longer have a decent meal because she can’t afford it. It means, your 80-year-old father is no longer able to buy the asthma medication he needs for his survival. It means that daughters and sons, naturally tending to their elderly parents needs as part of a safety net that functioned well for centuries, are no longer able to meet their deeply rooted duties. It means that even emotionally and psychologically, Syrians are affected to the very core of their identity and dignity.

My message is not a political one, it is purely humanitarian. We at the Red Cross and Red Crescent have a neutral stance about the sanctions. We work as humanitarians to make sure that people are not suffering and dying because of lack of basic needs such as medicines, food or water.  Innocent people in Syria are paying the price of failed diplomacy, and unnecessarily suffer daily.

During my visit, I heard a common and sad “joke.” Many Syrians told me: Either we die of hunger, of war, or we die of COVID-19. It doesn’t matter.” 

In between the conversations, people asked: Can you send us coffee? Can you send us Tabasco sauce? These things don’t make it to Syria anymore. One might think these items are luxuries.  Well, we believe that preserving human dignity matters.

In Damascus, I met the dedicated leadership of the Syria Arab Red Crescent (SARC) the volunteers and the staff who joined SARC to help their people. COVID-19 didn’t stop them. The message “Stay Home” does not mean much to them because their job is to be with their communities, in the streets, in the ambulances, in the camps for refugees and the internally displaced.

I also visited the SARC Damascus branch; A nine-story building where each floor has a specific function. I started with the Emergency Response Teams on the ninth floor. I met young women team leaders and their volunteer teams who run the emergency calls and the ambulance dispatch. I asked them what was their number one concern?  They said the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).  They must rationalize the PPEs and reuse them between the different teams. They send the PPEs to sterilization in between missions and sometimes, as a new emergency call kicks in, the PPEs are not sterilized yet. So, some take the risk of wearing utilized PPEs.  Some can’t take the risk as they have children and families at home. With some 11,000 SARC volunteers at work across the country our current PPE supplies and resources are being exhausted at high speed.

 I visited the physical rehabilitation and prostheses center. I saw young children, young woman and men trying to make prosthesis fit. They have been disabled by the war and trying to bounce back. Some smiled to me, some didn’t, and some cried in silence.

I visited another floor that hosts the dialyses unit. I met with the young doctors who are running between the fully packed beds with dialysis patients.  They talked about the lack of spare parts, lack of filters for the dialysis machine, the maintenance needed, the inability of the patients to access the facility because of the conflict.  I was left wondering how many have died lacking access to such lifesaving units?

Another floor was being converted to provide ICU capacity as the anticipated COVID-19 waves begin to hit.

I salute SARC, its dedicated volunteers, its managers, its doctors, its nurses, and its leaders who are doing their very best to deliver humanitarian aid in one of the most complex crisis that I have ever experienced in my 32 years of humanitarian work.

I walked out of the SARC headquarters and paused at the main doors next to a wall displaying the names of the 62 staff and volunteers who lost their lives in line of duty to save others.  Thank you!  I also managed to meet Syrian officials to discuss and agree on increased access, with UN and ICRC colleagues to better coordinate and expand the work.

Serious international diplomacy efforts are needed to halt the suffering and address the challenges that Syrians face every single day including but not limited to COVID-19.  Increased humanitarian funding and ceasefires will allow us more access, save more lives, and simply offer more protection to people.

We, as humanitarians we will continue doing our part to alleviate the suffering; It will not be enough.  

An urgent, just, and durable political solution is needed.

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RCRC Digital Consultation: Data Protection & Data Responsibility https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/28/rcrc-digital-consultation-data-protection-data-responsibility/ Tue, 28 Jul 2020 09:48:17 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67153 What are the Digital Consultations The RCRC movement is hosting digital consultations to support and inform the Digital Pledge. The Digital Pledge was presented during the RCRC’s international conference held in late 2019, which set out a framework for the Movement’s Strategy 2030. Digital transformation is prioritized as one of seven transformations that the RCRC […]

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What are the Digital Consultations

The RCRC movement is hosting digital consultations to support and inform the Digital Pledge. The Digital Pledge was presented during the RCRC’s international conference held in late 2019, which set out a framework for the Movement’s Strategy 2030.

Digital transformation is prioritized as one of seven transformations that the RCRC must embrace for the next decade. While digital technology can drive greater impact and efficiency in delivering humanitarian aid, it is accompanied by certain risks that need to be attended to. The Digital Pledge was signed by several members of the Movement committed themselves to strengthen national data and digital capacities for humanitarian action. One of its main components is data protection and data responsibility.

Why these topics

Data is increasingly collected and shared across the RCRC Movement (ICRC, IFRC and National Societies) at a speed never seen before, with the use of different technologies and tools and at donors and partners’ requests. At the same time, this entails higher risks of over-collection, misuse or loss of data. Every week, there is news of data breaches or inappropriate personal data handling by major companies. Companies whose tools we not only use for work, but that those we strive to aid and protect also commonly use as means of communication.

Personal data, and the need to protect it, is in everything we do: from the normal and necessary sharing of contact information; to browsing a website; to using mobile devices, social media, other digital platforms and new technologies to provide assistance; to recording information about volunteers, staff and beneficiaries; to reuniting families; to registering and collecting medical information; to the sharing of health data during epidemics etc.

Data Protection

ICRC states that “Protecting individuals’ personal data is an integral part of protecting their life and dignity. This is why personal data protection is of fundamental importance for humanitarian organizations.” Please see ICRC video on Data protection to learn more:

Data Responsibility

Data responsibility in simple terms, is the responsible processing of data. Using ethical standards and principles to understand the consequences of data-related work and taking measures not to harm individuals or communities, is paramount in the humanitarian context.

What we discussed

During the digital consultations, IFRC and ICRC members reflected on key issues related to data protection and data responsibility across all regions of the Movement, guided by the following questions:

  • What have you learned about data protection needs in COVID-19 Response?
  • Can you share some examples of the challenges you faced?
  • What are some ways that we can improve data protection and responsible data use in our work?
  •   

What did we Learn


Insights from the discussions were clustered under the following six themes:

Accelerated change – adoptive approach:  The rapid pace of technology and innovation means that data protection and responsibility are critical in each level of humanitarian operation. RCRC’s COVID response saw the accelerated use of data and technology, and showed complexities in terms of data collection, data sharing, data use and data storage, as well as data minimization, for example in cash transfer processes. The time for digital transformation is now – but the Movement needs to adapt quickly to ensure that the transformation is safe and sustainable.

Policy and practice: Managing the organizational shift from data responsibility policy to practice proves challenging, because data is not yet central to people’s thinking. Even when concerns and principles like do-not-harm are obvious, policies are needed to ensure they are observed and implemented. Being data responsible requires a culture and behavior change at all levels of RCRC’s operations.

Ownership: a data subject should be the final owner of the data that is produced about and for him or her. Data should be decentralized so that people affected can have greater control over their data.

Risk and opportunity: participants mentioned digital contact tracing apps as a clear and current issue regarding responsible data management in RCRC’s global COVID response. While mobile applications do provide an opportunity to mitigate the spread of the global pandemic, their use is accompanied by clear data protection concerns. Participants highlighted the need to limit intrusion and safeguard data privacy while making efficient use of the opportunities that technology can bring. Which new methods do we use and how do we ensure that when we use them, we do not create additional risks, harming the people we seek to assist?

Connect: There is a gap between different parts the Movement on data protection and responsibility. Not only do data responsibility policies differ across regions, within regions and even National Societies there are gaps in responsible data use. While staff and volunteers may be informed about the data policies that apply to their scope of actions, internal communication and coordination structures are not always clear, limiting actual implementation of data policies.

External to the Movement:  The Movement needs constant exchange internally, whilst keeping a pace externally. RCRC needs to work in parallel with the tech world, civil society, public authorities. This work in progress that can only be done with a wide set of stakeholders, which is too complex for one entity to manage on its own. 

Gauge by Roberto Chiaveri

What are the next steps:

The collection and processing of personal data, with the use of digital services in the delivery of humanitarian aid, will only increase in importance. Yet, all of the necessary work requires resources: People, time, money, education. Additional human resources are needed to continue to contribute on so many fronts. The development of tools and the provision of specific guidance on a variety of projects could benefit from the contribution of staff as well as short-term resources, such as consultants and interns, and collaboration with National Societies for specific projects.

The insights form the digital consultations will be used as grounded input for the IFRC’s digital transformation strategy. Find this blog for insights on digital consultations on digital volunteering.

Who was engaged:

The Data Protection and Data Responsibility – digital consultation included 38 participants from 13 National Societies, ICRC, and IFRC for two sessions across two time zones: Australian Red Cross, American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross, Danish Red Cross, Ecuadorian Red Cross, French Red Cross, IFRC, ICRC, Kenyan Red Cross, Netherlands Red Cross (510), New Zealand Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross, Palestine Red Crescent, and Spanish Red Cross.

Resources

[Image credit: Gauge by Roberto Chiaveri (Noun Project) CCBY 4.0]

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Mexico: violence and attacks against health workers are on the rise in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/27/mexico-violence-attacks-health-workers-rise-context-covid-19-pandemic/ Mon, 27 Jul 2020 17:31:41 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67134 In Mexico, Red Cross paramedics are used to dealing with cases of violence. However, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers are increasingly faced with personal attacks. “Sometimes we’ve had to treat people with gunshot wounds. We have to learn to manage risks in this context because these are very tense situations in […]

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In Mexico, Red Cross paramedics are used to dealing with cases of violence. However, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers are increasingly faced with personal attacks.

“Sometimes we’ve had to treat people with gunshot wounds. We have to learn to manage risks in this context because these are very tense situations in which people become very aggressive. I have never had a gun pointed at me, but I have been attacked,” said Alejandro, a 21-year-old paramedic from the Huixquilucan branch of the Mexican Red Cross. “The effects of the pandemic have made the job more difficult. People are desperate. The lockdown and the fact that people are becoming infected is creating a lot of unrest”, he explains.

A few months ago, Alejandro faced an incident while attending to a patient who was over 60 years of age and had COVID-19. “When we arrived at his home, the person was in a critical state, with severe breathing complications. His symptoms also showed other health problems that had been dragging on for weeks, making his condition worse”. Because of the man’s condition, Alejandro suggested that his family move him to the nearest hospital. They resisted and began to get upset, wanting him to be taken to a hospital they knew, but which was located much farther away. Finally, they agreed to have him moved to the nearest hospital. Along the way, the patient died, despite all the efforts made by the paramedics to keep him stable. Upon arrival at the hospital, family members became aware of the event and exploded into rage. They attacked Alejandro and another doctor at the hospital, claiming that he died because of them. “Attacks on medical personnel are becoming very common. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is getting worse,” explains Alejandro.

Social isolation is another reality that paramedics have to deal with. Many must move away from their families. “We’re handling it. However, it’s hard not being able to see your loved ones and being away from your friends. The demands of work and isolation damaged my relationship,” says Alejandro. The Mexican Red Cross has invested a great deal of effort to provide emotional support to people like Alejandro, who must work directly on the streets and in areas where the virus is ravaging. In addition, the National Society has worked hard to train its staff in safe access and handling of biosecurity protocols. “We are not going to stop, we are going to continue working to help, but we are going to do it in a safer way,” he says.

The night begins to fall, and Alejandro goes to the hostel where he is staying as a preventive measure to avoid being in physical contact with his relatives. He has finished his 24-hour shift and now has two days off, which he will use to study. He is pursuing a career in aeronautics and he spends most of his free time studying. “I like to keep busy, I don’t like easy stuff,” he says. He inherited his vocation as a paramedic from his parents, who have also been involved in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for many years. Faced with the difficult situation, he remains positive. Despite the complications, Alejandro is determined to continue doing his best to cope with the pandemic. “I do my job with love and passion. It is normal to be afraid in the current circumstances, but it is very fulfilling to do what I do. It’s great to be able to help people.

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Double-Edged Stories of Loss and Joy from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/07/22/double-edged-stories-loss-joy-srcs/ Wed, 22 Jul 2020 16:12:41 +0000 https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/?p=67073 Randa El Ozeir: It’s always been about people. When you see your friend dying before your eyes, no words can be big and expressive enough to capture the intensity of shock and sadness that wraps your whole body and mind. That was exactly what happened with Mohammed Tarek Alashraf, previously a paramedic volunteer in the […]

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Randa El Ozeir: It’s always been about people.

When you see your friend dying before your eyes, no words can be big and expressive enough to capture the intensity of shock and sadness that wraps your whole body and mind. That was exactly what happened with Mohammed Tarek Alashraf, previously a paramedic volunteer in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARC) and currently the Disaster Management Unit Coordinator of the SARC Homs Branch. “At the time my colleague and friend, Hakam Duraq El-Sibaye, was martyred, a wave of sorrow engulfed me. We were exchanging a conversation when we received an emergency call. He was in another paramedic team. The SARC was allowed to move around during night time. Hakam’s team took on the task but got shot while doing their job. I was one of the paramedics to aid him and the others. We had to drive them to the hospital where Hakam passed away. It was really hard, and I still remember every detail of our last conversation, his voice and his smile.”

Alashraf and the rest of the volunteers were hesitant and torn between continuing their work or quitting, “Hakam’s parents insisted on us to keep doing our job as would their son have wanted and help the community that needs us,” explained Alashraf, “and so far, we have helped to deliver and oversee the quality and accountability for implementation of relief aids to 129,420 affected families that equal to 594,000 people within Homs Governorate.”

The story of Moaz Al Malki, who started as an SARC emotional supporter in 2012 and became a Water Team Coordinator in Damascus Branch, has a personal trauma twist. He said, “After we finished one of our emergency interventions to add chlorine to sterilize the water coming to Damascus city and add diesel oil to operate the water pumping station, I was kidnapped and detained for five long hours. Thanks to the efforts of some local community groups that were aware of the humanitarian organizations’ role and some competent authorities, I had been released with my companions and our machineries, and we left the area.”

For Donia Mouin AbdAlla, Leader of first-aid team in the SARC, the main hurdle in her doing the job is the emotional state of the patient’s companions. They usually don’t help in making the decision for the patient, which complicates the paramedic task, especially when the crowd gathers around. “Additionally, the scarcity of financial means restricts the options, for example, when the situation requires using an automated ventilator that is available only in private hospitals,” explained AbdAlla. “I don’t exaggerate if I say that my work is a life or death matter for the person who needs rescuing. Being part of this reduces my frustration towards all human catastrophes and crises, particularly in my country. What motivates and excites me is the fact that, despite our limited capacities, we make a huge difference in the lives and the future of families. We see how our noble purpose lessens many distressed families in our beloved country,” said AbdAlla. She is always driven by the idea of “Saving lives” and isolating the patient from any source of harm or damage to stop the bleeding and enhance the recovery with the few equipment she has.

One concrete instance filled AbdAlla with optimism, sweetness, and hope that still linger whenever she has a case to resuscitate. “A child fell from the first floor and was brought to our centre while I was on duty. His heart had stopped beating, and he urgently needed CPR. In less than 15 seconds I started the procedure, and after two full rounds, the child regained his beat following a deep inhale. I didn’t believe it amidst the joking of the paramedic’s team. My hands couldn’t stop doing the CPR and a stupid smile glued on my face and in my heart,” narrated AbdAlla.

As the residents of Old Homs City begun returning to their homes, a beneficiary of the Home Repair and Building Project whose eyes welled up with tears thanked Alashraf saying, “Finally, I am at home today outside the shelter centre and can earn my living with dignity. Hadn’t been for the SARC, I wouldn’t have been able to come back home. The volunteers of the SARC are part of my family.” At this moment, Alashraf was over the moon and realized the tangible impact of the SARC’ humanitarian projects.

The loveliest turn was in Al Malki’s story. He told us that, “in 2015, a special and great lady joined the SARC as a water engineer. This lady is my wife now, and next month we’re going to celebrate the third birthday of our beautiful son.”

After 15 years with the SARC, Alashraf thinks that what kept him doing the same job is the team building, the teamwork spirit, the constant appreciation, the continuing training, improving the leadership skills, and being part of the decision-making. Al Malki said that, “the need in Syria and on the ground is tremendous and exceeds the capacity and power of all the partners and supporters who are trying very hard to help the affected people and the SARC. But my contribution in humanitarian work to better the livelihood of individuals and reserve their dignity gives me the satisfaction without the eternal question ‘what’s in it for me?’”

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