Red Cross Red Crescent: Libya and the Middle East crisis demands urgent humanitarian access

Published: 24 February 2011

Geneva - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is preparing to send a special envoy to the Middle East to assess national Red Crescent societies’ requirements to cope with the massive social crisis that has spread across the region.

The organisation has already given considerable support to local Red Crescent Societies but believes that an international intervention is now warranted.

“When difficult situations happen that endanger people’s lives, humanitarian access is crucial”, said Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the 186-member Federation. “Every Red Cross and Red Crescent society is a neutral auxiliary to its Government, meaning their volunteers and staff are active from the earliest moments in a crisis. We must reinforce this role.”

“Our emblem is precious at times like this”, added Mr Geleta. “The Red Cross Red Crescent must be there to help, and to rise to humanitarian challenges. People are confused, terrified, injured, separated from their loved ones or fleeing for their lives. They know that a Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem means safety, protection and neutral humanitarian aid.”

Mr Geleta was speaking as newspaper reports quoted western Governments’ fears that over 1,000 people have already been killed in Libya, and many more injured.

The Italian Red Cross society is already taking care of hundreds of Tunisians who made the perilous sea crossing to the small island of Lampedusa.

Another international delegate is being sent to Tunisia’s border with Libya to assist Tunisia Red Crescent’s team. Finnish, Canadian and German Red Cross teams are also being deployed. British, Turkish and other Red Cross or Red Crescent societies are helping to get nationals out of the trouble spots, and restoring family links.

The Libyan Red Crescent Society has set up a first aid post in the centre of Benghazi, where one ambulance and 50 first aid volunteers are providing basic medical care and transport to hospitals.

Earlier, the IFRC allocated Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to cover the urgent medical needs of the wounded and injured in Egypt, and to support the National Society in delivering immediate assistance to 10,000 beneficiaries. More allocations are being considered for the unfolding crisis across the region

The Yemeni Red Crescent Society has been providing services and transferring the injured people to the hospitals in Sana’a since early February. It is also managing traffic flows near the demonstrations to help prevent accidents. Sixty volunteers of the Yemen Red Crescent society have been mobilized, and 20 more are on stand-by for additional backup.

“We applaud the humanitarian spirit and courage of our staff and volunteers in such situations”, said Secretary General Geleta. “Their humanity, impartiality and neutrality is a beacon in dark times."

Watch video of IFRC Under-Secretary General Matthias Schmale operational update:

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Amman: Suhair Khalil – IFRC MENA Communications Coordinator (+962-6) 569 4911 – 5681060  
In Geneva: Sadia Kaenzig – IFRC Communications Department +41 79 2173386  
In Budapest: Joe Lowry – IFRC Europe Zone Communications Coordinator +36 70 9537712