Photo: One of the women White Helmets volunteers provides health care for camp residents.
This is a message from Raed al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets:
As 2022 ends, I want to pass on my deep gratitude for your support for the White Helmets and the communities we serve. It is as important today as it has ever been. It pains me to see the images coming out of Ukraine – of fleeing civilians, bombed-out ambulances, and paramedics running towards burning buildings. These horrors are so familiar to us Syrians and I firmly believe that the failure of accountability for atrocities in Syria paved the way for Putin’s crimes in Ukraine.
As first responders, we are primary witnesses to violations of international humanitarian law. This year our volunteers saved more than 300 people from under the rubble of attacks, including over 100 children. Since 2015, the White Helmets have responded to 5,700 Russian attacks that killed more than 4,000 people. That Russia has not been held accountable gives dictators anywhere in the world the impression that they can act with impunity.
We will not stop demanding justice and this year we formally launched our own Justice and Accountability Program, which organises evidence of every attack we respond to into a war crimes archive. We are now supporting international investigations, including the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the UN’s Commission of Inquiry, and we are still documenting new atrocities every day.
Last month we rushed in to save lives after the regime and Russia launched a series of attacks on camps for internally displaced people. Our volunteer Hassan Bakir, himself displaced, lost his baby son Azzam in the ambush. More than half of the 4.5 million people in northwest Syria live in vulnerable tent camps and on top of responding to bombing and removing unexploded ordnances, our White Helmets volunteers do all we can to make their lives easier.
With another freezing winter well underway we are hard at work maintaining access to camps, levelling roads and digging drainage channels. Our women’s health centres are managing a deadly outbreak of cholera, and we haven’t stopped our covid-19 response. The level of humanitarian need in Syria is growing but in January, in the middle of winter, families face the threat of reduced humanitarian aid when the UN Security Council votes on whether to continue the cross-border UN aid operation. The threat of Russia politicising this lifeline is a looming crisis.
Since our formation we have lost 297 volunteers, many of whom killed in “double-tap” attacks that aim to kill the first responders that rush to the scene of initial bombings to rescue civilians. Your donations support their bereaved families, and cover medical expenses for volunteers who are injured. I recently met with families who benefit from this support, and I saw how important it is and the dignity it gives them. Our volunteers have saved 125,000 lives since the beginning of the conflict and we are forever grateful to them for their sacrifices.
My wish for 2023 is that real progress is made on justice and accountability. Despite Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the world has become numb to atrocities waged against Syrians. The solidarity of people like you around the world reminds the volunteers that they are not forgotten and it gives them strength to do their dangerous work. Please continue to stand with The White Helmets and to demand justice and accountability in Syria. We all need this to achieve peace.
If you can, please make an end of year contribution to the White Helmets to support their efforts in rescuing civilians, pushing for justice and accountability, and providing essential services to communities. Chip in here: whitehelmets.org