IFRC President visits Korea to witness the development of a vital National Society

Published: 16 July 2013 12:57 CET

By Francis Markus in Seoul

The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Tadateru Konoé, has used a visit to the Republic of Korea to highlight the role of The Republic of Korea National Red Cross and to call for stepped-up humanitarian cooperation with the government, as he met key government ministers in Seoul.

“The Korean Red Cross offers many examples of best practice in the way it has expanded its services and adapted its role to meet the changing demands of Korean society,” he said in a speech after receiving the Mugunghwa Order, the National Society’s highest award.

He said that the National Society had also mirrored its country’s rapid economic advance, by stepping up its role as a provider of humanitarian assistance to those parts of the world where it is most needed such as Iraq, in the tsunami-hit countries of south-east Asia, in Africa, and in Haiti.

During his two-day visit to Seoul – his first as IFRC President – Mr. Konoé paid courtesy visits to the Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, the Minister of Unification – responsible for relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – Ryoo Kihl-jae, and the Minister of  Security and Public Administration – responsible for disaster preparedness and response – Yoo Jeong-bok.

He underlined the importance of International Disaster Law and urged closer cooperation between the government and the society on disaster response. Mr. Konoé also expressed hopes for expansion of the government’s contribution to IFRC operations in the DPRK, which are currently funded predominantly by Nordic and other European Red Cross societies.

The IFRC President called for further cooperation among the Republic of Korea government, the National Society and IFRC on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding signed last year. The agreement envisages building on the synergies of the three partners to reach more people in need in many developing countries. It has already opened the way for cooperation between IFRC’s Global Logistics Services and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, the main government implementer of the accord.

While in Seoul, Mr. Konoé recorded a video message for Asia Pacific Red Cross Youth and others who are to attend the second Model Annual IFRC General Assembly, to be hosted by The Republic of Korea National Red Cross in August, along with a global youth camp.

“These are very important tools for developing young people’s diplomatic, communication and leadership skills in a way which will equip them to be future Red Cross Red Crescent leaders, engaging with the humanitarian issues which we and the next generations face,” he said.

During the IFRC President’s visit, the society marked the first anniversary of the establishment of a flagship social care programme called Heemang Poongcha, or Windmill of Hope.

The initiative strives to raise the quality of life for vulnerable young people, seniors, multicultural families and migrants in the four interlinked areas of livelihoods, health, housing and education.

“This is a key part of our work, because it mobilizes support from the general public and resources from the corporate sector to help those who need assistance in our society and helps people to recognise the Red Cross’s important humanitarian role,” said Korean Red Cross President Yu Jung-keun.

The project includes medical centres within Red Cross hospitals, which provide subsidised treatment for vulnerable people from these groups.

“I am really grateful to the Red Cross for providing this service, because when I had my first two children, the cost of going to hospital and having check ups was a big worry – now I get a lot of help,” Niouma Ducoure, 34, an asylum seeker from Mali in West Africa, said as she cradled her six-week-old baby at the Healthy Neighbor Center in Seoul’s Red Cross Hospital.

Through mobilizing support from the general public as volunteers and donors and bringing more of Korea’s corporate sector on board – the giant auto-manufacturer Hyundai provides funding for the Healthy Neighbor Center – Korean Red Cross plans to keep up its dynamic drive to meet the country’s changing needs.

Internationally, meanwhile, as the Republic of Korea’s development assistance continues to grow. The country which once received development aid itself as one of the poorest in Asia, is committed to providing help to those that need it now.

“We in the Red Cross see ourselves as an important actor in this process, working closely with our government and the IFRC to reach more vulnerable people in many parts of the world and President Konoé’s meetings here have underlined this,” said President Yu.