IFRC President visits German Red Cross: “We represent humanity, we represent help.”

Published: 6 September 2016 10:10 CET

Whether supporting vulnerable refugee women and children, helping to protect communities from unexploded Second World War munitions, or carrying out daring water rescues along Brandenburg’s 33,000km of lakes, creeks and rivers, the German Red Cross’ message remains the same: “We represent humanity, we represent help”.

Mr. Tadateru Konoé, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, gained many insights into the scale and complexity of German Red Cross programmes during visits to Berlin and Brandenburg.

The IFRC President was welcomed to the German Red Cross Berlin Branch on Friday 2 September by its President, Dr. h.c. Uwe Kärgel, and its CEO Mr Volker Billhart.

Dr. Kärgel gave Mr Konoé an overview of the Berlin Branch’s activities, and described its work in social services, disaster management, and in its response to the migration crisis. The Branch is an important symbol, he said, because until the reunification of Germany in 1991 there had been a Red Cross society in East Germany, and another in West Germany.

“Reunification was a big test, but it brought the two together as one, and showed the people that they have so much in common. They are the same – not East, not West, but Red Cross,” he said.

This belief in a shared humanity and tolerance is now driving the Berlin Branch’s work to support the nearly 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in the city since 2015, and to encourage greater understanding among Berliners in order to improve the chances of successful integration.

The Berlin Branch leaders and the IFRC President – accompanied by German Red Cross Vice-Secretary General Dr. Johannes Richert and IFRC Director of Europe Dr. Simon Missiri – then visited a refugee centre located in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg that accommodates people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq all together. The team was greatly impressed with efforts of the German Red Cross staff and volunteers in nurturing a culture of non-violence and peace between people from different countries of origin, as well as with the local community.

Described by staff members as “a very special place”, the shelter is exclusively for the use of vulnerable women and children. Each family group has its own bedroom and bathroom, and there are play facilities for the children, communal laundry and dining areas, and a computer room. The children will soon go to school where they will meet new friends and learn the most important social integration skill of all – the language of the country.

The German Red Cross is playing an active part in providing language lessons, swimming lessons, family tracing services, medical care, and psychosocial support for migrants suffering from stress and trauma. The National Society is offering these activities for migrants without compromising its conventional community services such as care for elderly and people with disabilities, first aid, and water safety training.

Mr Konoé then travelled to Potsdam in Brandenburg, where he was welcomed by the German Red Cross Vice-President Ms Donata von Schenck, Brandenburg Branch President Dr. Frank-W Hülsenbeck and CEO Mr Hubertus Diemer.

Mr Diemer spoke of his Branch’s activities and some of its challenges – such as in providing services and recruiting volunteers in very sparsely populated areas; the regular evacuations of an entire town – including elderly people and people with disabilities - whenever an unexploded bomb is discovered, and making sure that Red Cross rescue boats are on standby to help people who get into difficulties in the State’s extensive waterways.

Whether supporting people in need in Brandenburg, in Germany or internationally, he said, the Red Cross stands for something hugely important: “We represent humanity, we represent help.”

The IFRC President was then invited to meet volunteers from the water rescue team that responds to around 200 incidents every year, and take a trip on one of the boats.

Speaking at the end of his mission, Mr Konoé said: “It has been a privilege to return to the German Red Cross, to spend time with its dynamic leaders, and to meet many of the skilled and dedicated staff and volunteers who are living our Fundamental Principles every day.

“It is a strong and highly effective National Society, which has tremendous impact at home and internationally, and it is leading by example by placing tolerance and respect for human dignity at the heart of all its activities.”