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A Call to Respect Aid Workers in Syria

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This week is a very important one in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's history, and as we celebrate our 150th anniversary we look to the crisis in Syria.

As a movement we have grown exponentially since our founding by Henry Dunant in Geneva in 1863 - we now encompass 189 national societies and over 14million volunteers worldwide - and the work we carry out has the same resonance to this day.

In Syria we see our colleagues upholding what is fundamental to us on a daily basis, relying on our principle of neutrality to cross frontlines to assist those most in need. Nowhere is the work of our staff and volunteers more poignant than in this conflict where, in the last two years, 22 volunteers have lost their lives on duty, whilst helping others. These men and women cannot just stop - the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is one of the only organisations able to access large swathes of Syria and without their help two and a half million people each month would go without assistance; be it food aid, medical attention or psychological support.

I visited Damascus in March this year and was awed by the efforts of the SARC volunteers - some of whom had lost their jobs or gave them up to do this vital work- many surviving on their savings. At the ambulance control centre the calls are relentless, and crews were directed to dozens of fires, bomb sites, and car crashes daily.

Access is a persistent challenge with a myriad of checkpoints slowing the ambulances' progress and the accessibility of key roads changing daily.

Targeting and endangering these brave aid workers, who play no part in the conflict and who simply seek to help those most in need, is wholly unacceptable. It is for this reason that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is joining together in an unprecedented call for solidarity with our courageous colleagues working in Syria, to call on all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded, immediate access to people in need across Syria.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has suffered a number of incidents in recent months, including mortars hitting branch offices and distribution points, and attacks on ambulances. The humanitarian tragedy that continues unabated in Syria is deplorable and more must be done to ensure aid reaches the vulnerable, and those delivering it are protected. The message today is this: enough is enough

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was borne of one man's shock after witnessing the horrors of war after the battle of Solferino in 1859. Its aim: to alleviate suffering and protect the lives and dignity of those caught up in armed conflict and other crises; and in doing so, to remain neutral, impartial and independent. The principles and humanitarian purpose of the Movement remain as relevant and crucial now as in the bloody aftermath of Solferino. In the changing landscapes of conflict and disaster, the increased complexity of actors involved and the ever more complicated web of causes, our neutral and impartial humanitarian presence is paramount.

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