Marseille, Friday, 22 September -Almost ten years after a devastating shipwreck off Lampedusa claimed the lives of more than 360 men, women and children on 3 October 2013, the central Mediterranean is as deadly as ever. During his current visit to Marseille, Pope Francis will once again alert the global public to the humanitarian crisis unfolding at Europe’s southern border by commemorating those missing at sea.
In a press conference onboard civil rescue ship Ocean Viking this morning, SOS MEDITERRANEE and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) attested to the heartbreaking situation for people trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety.
Jérôme, Deputy Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard Ocean Viking said:
“Last month, we witnessed firsthand the lack of resources to save lives in the central Mediterranean. We conducted the largest ever rescue operation on the Ocean Viking. In 36 hours of nonstop operations, we rescued 623 people. It was clear that there were more people at risk of losing their lives than we could assist. The work we do is vital, but we cannot do it alone.”
The humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean have been exacerbated by the growing food insecurity in Africa, the conflicts and recent disasters that have struck Libya and other Northern African countries in recent weeks. With no alternative to seek safety, there is no reason to believe that people will stop attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The main objective of search and rescue efforts is to bring people to safe places where they can access their rights. SOS MEDITERRANEE and the IFRC urge all States to prioritize sea rescue and to uphold maritime law and human rights along Europe’s southern sea border.
Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination said:
“IFRC cannot turn a blind eye. Across the globe, people on the move face significant risks to their lives, dignity, and rights. This is a humanitarian imperative that we all have an obligation to address and is why IFRC is responding both on land and at sea. Our humanitarian work aboard the Ocean Viking is a vital part of our mission of protection and alleviating human suffering.”
Sophie Beau, co-founder of SOS MEDITERRANEE and General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE France said:
“The unfathomable death toll in the Mediterranean this year could have been prevented if the political will was there. Migration deterrence policies and obstruction of civil sea rescue have only led to more human suffering. As a prominent moral and global figure as well as European Head of State, Pope Francis will use his visit to Marseille to recall the moral imperative underlying the laws and conventions that apply at sea: no one in distress should be left to drown.Ten years after the shipwreck off Lampedusa, we urgently call for global sea rescue missions and for the recognition of the valuable support of humanitarian Search and Rescue organisations.”
Note to the editor
As of 2021, the IFRC has partnered with SOS MEDITERRANEE onboard the Ocean Viking. This partnership builds on the strength of both organizations: SOS MEDITERRANEE’s sea rescue expertise and IFRC’s longstanding experience in providing relief, protection and health-related assistance to people in need. Find out more here.
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Budapest/Geneva, 30 September 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling for urgent action to tackle vaccine hesitancy in Europe, where there has been a worrying increase in violent incidents against COVID-19 related health infrastructure and personnel.
The pandemic is far from over in Europe, where an average of 2,000 people die of COVID-19 every day. More than one million people get infected every week, and hospitalisations are going up in half of the EU/EEA countries, including among young people and children, but particularly among unvaccinated adults. Intensive Care Units are getting dangerously filled up in Bulgaria and Romania, for example, which have low immunisation rates.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently projected 236,000 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 by 1 December across Europe,[i] and there are growing concerns about soaring infections and deaths in some parts of Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia.
In addition, disinformation about vaccines’ side effects and potential risks, coupled with the introduction of ‘vaccine passes’, is sparking anger and violence, which have led to concerning incidents against medical services, media and the general public in countries including Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Poland, Slovenia and France.
Vaccination saves lives, but there is still a deadly gap in the distribution and uptake of vaccines in the region: almost 70 per cent of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose, whereas in the poorest ones barely 20 per cent have been partially vaccinated.
Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, IFRC’s Regional Director for Europe, said:
“We are facing a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19 in Europe.
“Access to COVID-19 vaccination remains a challenge due to the shortage of supply in some countries. In addition, low acceptance and barriers for particularly vulnerable individuals are critical elements as well.
“Increased community engagement is needed to tackle vaccine hesitancy, myths and disinformation. Without addressing people’s concerns and fears, vaccines may not find their way into the arms of those most at risk, even where doses are available,” Ebbesen warned.
With support from the IFRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe are working to build trust. Local teams have reached out to more than 300,000 people on the importance of getting vaccinated and have helped immunise 31 million people, actively engaging communities to ensure they have accurate information and can protect themselves.
According to a survey conducted by the Collective Service for Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE), of which the IFRC is a part, at least three quarters of people in most countries worldwide would agree to be vaccinated, if it was available and recommended.[ii] The data also suggests that in areas where there were high levels of hesitancy initially, increases in vaccinations overall may have impacted acceptance.
More support is needed to address vaccine hesitancy and speed up immunization campaigns across the region, though. “If we don’t step up collective efforts to strengthen community trust and make vaccines widely available, it will be too late,” stressed Ebbesen.
At the moment, IFRC’s COVID-19 Emergency Appeal[iii] is only 60 per cent funded.
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Budapest/Geneva, 18 June 2021 – A looming heatwave in parts of Europe poses a deadly threat to the most vulnerable in our society, and action is urgently needed to protect them, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
According to European meteorological offices, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Sweden can expect temperatures above 30°C this weekend. In Berlin, they may climb up to 35°C, which is 13°C higher than the average in this time of year.
Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said:
“The double risk of heat and COVID-19 will be particularly dangerous for our most vulnerable – homeless, migrants, older people, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions. As temperatures soar, these people are at heightened risk. It is crucial for governments and civil society to increase support for them. Lives are at stake.”
Heatwaves are the deadliest type of disaster in the Europe region. Increasingly common, they can aggravate pre-existing conditions and cause serious health problems.
According to the latest edition of IFRC’s World Disasters Report, published in November, three heatwaves affecting Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in 2019 caused more than 3,400 deaths.
In 2020, risks associated with these extreme weather events were compounded by COVID-19. While there is a perception that we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, every day in Europe more than 52,000 new COVID-19 casesare detected and 1,200 people die on average.
Dr Mukhamadiev highlighted that IFRC is supporting National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe to expand their services during the warmest months, including providing first aid, helping people access health services and checking in on isolated and at-risk people.
“French Red Cross is assisting the homeless, while Belgian Red Cross is vaccinating people living in the streets or in informal settlements as well as undocumented migrants. Austrian Red Cross is opening up cooling centres in cities, and the Netherlands Red Cross is visiting thousands of older people to share life-saving tips about staying cool and safe,” he explained.
Experts are also concerned that as lockdowns ease and people grow tired of wearing masks in the heat, many will become infected and contaminate others. This, along with holiday travel, could lead to a new deadly wave across the region in autumn, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)
“We cannot let our guard down. Staying cautious and following preventive measures on COVID-19 and heatwaves is more important than ever. Otherwise, health systems could again be overwhelmed and a spike in deaths may follow,” underlined Dr Mukhamadiev.
Budapest/Geneva, 7 June 2021 – The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching impacts for entire generations, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Several studies by Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across Europe show an alarming pattern, which requires increased efforts to tackle inequity and assist those most in need.
Antónia de Barros Mota, head of Mental Health/Psychosocial Support for IFRC Europe, said:
“The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are like invisible scars or hidden wounds. Young people and children are suffering stress, bereavement and loneliness, which can worsen as time passes. Their parents may have lost their jobs. Lockdowns and other restrictions continue to hamper their access to education, training and work.”
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a critical point recently.
Four university students took their own lives in a campus in southern France in the last quarter of 2020. French Red Cross set up a 24/7 rapid intervention team[i] to support those at risk. During the first six months they dealt with 11 students including eight who required immediate hospitalisation.
“With end of school year exams approaching, staff and volunteers are on high alert,” explained Sara Salinas, coordinator of the French Red Cross emergency service in the county.
A Spanish Red Cross study[ii] among families with young children revealed the majority now live in extreme poverty. Nearly 40 per cent are unemployed and three quarters cannot afford expenses such as glasses or hearing aids for their children. Most parents reported feeling worried or stressed, impacting their ability to emotionally support their children.
Research by Austrian Red Cross[iii] found sleep and eating disturbances among children had doubled, and that after the second lockdown in 2020, 16 per cent of children interviewed in North Tyrol (Austria) and South Tyrol (Italy) were likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Refugees and migrant children are also significantly affected by the pandemic. A Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC study[iv] found a third were unable to access online school lessons. Another study with German Red Cross in Turkey showed that when forced to stay home children displayed more behavioural problems, and traumatic memories were triggered for some.
Europe has had more than 54.6 million COVID-19 cases and 1.1 million deaths to date[v] – a third of infections and fatalities worldwide. Declining trends are promising, but the pandemic’s effects could be long-lasting.
“Authorities and civil society organizations must scale up programmes and resources to help vulnerable youth and children – including basic livelihoods assistance and tailored mental health and psychosocial support. It is crucial to promote resilience at the individual level and within society as a whole,” de Barros Mota concluded.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, IFRC and Red Cross Red Crescent societies throughout Europe have provided mental health and psychosocial support to 1.8 million people.
[iii] Silvia Exenberger; Anna Wenter; Christina Taferner; Nina Haid-Stecher; Maximilian Schickl; Barbara Juen; Kathrin Sevecke; Heidi Siller. "The experience of threat through Covid-19 in children: Gender as moderating factor" has been received by European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The submission id is: ECAP-D-21-00298, May 2021
Europe is experiencing the fastest rise in Coronavirus infections in the world and health systems in many countries in our region are approaching breaking point. Yet worryingly, we are witnessing an alarming rise in people saying they are sick and tired of being restricted.
Worrying signs abound that people are failing to take the second wave seriously. Many countries have seen protests against new lockdown restrictions, and in Turkey, a Red Crescent survey  found that despite high levels of awareness, some people are less inclined to follow preventive measures now compared to in the early stages of the outbreak.
This pandemic fatigue is only set to worsen as people see the end in sight due to the promising vaccine news and as they’re tempted to buck restrictions of the looming long, dark winter of lockdowns.
But there are things you can do to get through this time and make yourself feel better.
Your actions now are critical and can make a real difference. Consider where we are. With almost 16 million confirmed cases, and 350,000 deaths, Europe accounts for more than half of the new cases globally.
But one of the best ways you can combat pandemic fatigue is to do something that you know is making a real difference, like volunteering for your local Red Cross or Red Crescent. Many of our European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and branches are desperate for fresh faces and more helping hands as we adapt our work to respond to this unprecedented emergency.
The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a shift from our traditional work and a move into new areas of assistance, as we respond rapidly to the second wave hitting Europe. We’re stepping in to fill gaps in hospitals and health clinics, we are alongside health authorities as they carry out mass testing, we’re supporting the most vulnerable so they don’t fall between the cracks and we’re reaching out to those who are most isolated and alone to defeat loneliness but also to take the dog for a walk or do the shopping.
Our work during the second wave includes in Slovakia where 1,500 local Red Cross personnel are supporting a programme aiming to test the entire adult population; in the Czech Republic we’re training thousands of new volunteers to work in hospitals as hundreds of health workers become sick, French Red Cross staff and volunteers are operating mobile testing units at train stations across Paris and Kyrgystan Red Crescent volunteers are providing first aid and transport for coronavirus patients around the clock.
Many of us are just tired of the relentless nature of this pandemic and are feeling there’s nothing we can do to end it. But there is a lot one person can do. You can play your part by staying the course. Practise social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds.
The sorts of thing you might be doing include working on telephone support lines, being part of a team preparing and delivering food, cash and other aid, supporting a mobile testing site or being a friendly face and a listening ear for someone who might not have any other human contact that day.
I can tell you these things are making a difference. In fact, our volunteers tell us that they get back as much as they give.
I urge you to join us. We need you, and you just might find that you need us.
Budapest/Geneva, 11 November 2020 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging Governments to strengthen their “test-trace-quarantine” systems to help prevent future surges of COVID-19.
This call comes as multiple European countries put in place new restrictions to stop community transmission and to avoid the collapse of health systems.
Francesco Rocca, IFRC President, said:
“The recent restrictions across Europe signal that more must be done, and we see ourselves as a critical piece of that puzzle. We understand that these measures are difficult for many people, but they are needed to both flatten the curve and provide an opportunity to fix what hasn’t been working.
“In many countries, we have been supporting local authorities in testing, contact tracing and isolation measures. This system can be effective only when it can be carried out fully and in a coordinated way. We are scaling up these critical activities across more countries. No one wants this second wave to be followed by a third or a fourth.”
Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are supporting embattled health systems by conducting COVID-19 testing, transporting patients and providing psychosocial support. They are also offering a range of services designed to ensure that highly vulnerable people can complete everyday tasks, including grocery shopping and picking up medicines, while still fully complying with restrictions.
However, with the situation worsening in many countries, the Red Cross and Red Crescent stands ready to do more, said IFRC President Rocca:
“Our collective effort to prevent transmission will pay dividends going forward. We offer our help to ensure the worst can be behind us and lockdowns won’t be necessary in the future. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are already supporting their own local authorities to flatten the curve, stop the spread of the virus and save lives – and we stand ready to do more.”
In France, Red Cross volunteers are supporting walk-in COVID testing units at railway stations across Paris. In Monaco, Red Cross volunteers are helping rapidly escalate the country’s testing regime. In the Netherlands, Red Cross volunteers are on hand to assist scaled-up testing and crowd control at numerous testing sites. And in Georgia, the local Red Cross is training medical students in testing for COVID-19 to supplement its ramped-up response to the pandemic, an effort that now involves tens of thousands of volunteers.
Red Cross teams in Slovakia are helping authorities test every person in the country. In the Czech Republic, Red Cross volunteers are training thousands of people to support health care workers in hospitals and in Italy, the Red Cross has deployed several field hospitals and has strengthened its ambulance services to support local health systems, as well as providing psychosocial support.
“Our volunteers have been doing all they can to ensure peoples’ needs are met in a safe manner with as many COVID-19 precautions in place as possible – and we will need to do more. Above all, we want to thank all people who have been helping for months on end to serve their communities. It will be a long path, but together, I know we can succeed,” Francesco Rocca said.
More than 300,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Europe, and in the past week the region has registered more than half of all new infections reported globally.
Budapest/Geneva, 14 October 2020 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging European governments and its citizens to simultaneously exercise leadership and remain vigilant as COVID-19 ravages the region.
More than seven million people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Europe, and 41 of 54 European countries have recorded a more than 10 per cent increase in positive cases compared to two weeks ago. In 23 of those countries, the increase in cases reached more than 50 per cent.
“Almost 250,000 people in Europe have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Every death is a tragedy, and we must all work together to try and stop further deaths. We need to take collective action and make the right choices now. Keep physical distance, avoid crowds and parties, wear a mask, wash your hands, and isolate yourself if ill. Hard choices now will pay off in the coming weeks. Protect yourself to protect others. Until this storm passes – and it will – your best defence against this virus is you,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, Head of the IFRC for Europe.
Dr Emanuele Capobianco, Head of Health and Care of IFRC, said: “We would not be fulfilling our humanitarian obligation if we did not sound the alarm in this dire moment of the pandemic’s trajectory. We ask governments to act with speed, courage and inclusiveness: to step up protective measures without delay, follow scientific evidence and recommendations and support the most vulnerable who are being affected by both the virus and its heavy socio-economic impact. We know it is a very difficult moment which requires difficult decisions: solving the health crisis will help solve the economic and social one.
“We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of front-line workers and citizens who are confronting this pandemic with great commitment and spirit of sacrifice. We can still turn this tide if we act courageously in this moment,” continued Dr Capobianco.
Across the continent, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams continue to play their part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and meeting the evolving needs of vulnerable communities:
In the UK, British Red Cross volunteers are responding to a shift in the type of calls to their free COVID-19 support line – with the public increasingly seeking emotional support and help with complex needs.
The situation is similar for the Italian Red Cross, where psychologists taking calls from the public via their toll-free number say common themes are loneliness, fear and shame of asking for help. Youth volunteers with the Italian Red Cross are also reaching out to young people in the country to explain the importance of personal protective measures and offering peer support.
The Netherlands Red Cross is supporting thousands of people who no longer have enough money to buy groceries through the provision of food vouchers, which will cover one meal per day over the coming months.
In Spain there’s been a huge response from young Red Cross volunteers, where more than 21,000 young people are helping the most vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 by distributing food to people at home, accompanying the elderly, transferring patients and supporting families with educational help and resources for children
And in south-east France, which has been hit by recent severe flooding, in a partnership between the city of Arras and the Red Cross of Pas-de-Calais rescuers have taken to the streets of the city centre to remind people of the importance of COVID-19 safety measures. French Red Cross first aid workers have also been in primary and nursery schools talking to children about the importance of COVID-19 protections.
“Months into this pandemic, we know communities across Europe are craving a return to normality. But the figures confirm we are not out of the woods yet, and as we head towards winter it is more important than ever that we remain socially close while staying physically distant,” Ms Ebbesen ended.
 Source: World Health Organization
Budapest/Geneva, 25 June 2019 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on people to check on vulnerable neighbours, relatives and friends as Western Europe readies itself for possible record high temperatures.
According to European meteorological offices, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland can expect temperatures in the mid to high-30s during the week, with temperatures potentially climbing to 40°C in Paris on Thursday (27 June).
IFRC’s Europe Region health coordinator Dr Davron Mukhamadiev said:
“The coming days will be challenging for a lot of people, but especially older people, young children, and people with underlying illnesses or limited mobility.
“Our message this week is simple: look after yourself, your family and your neighbours. A phone call or a knock on the door could save a life.”
Across Western Europe, Red Cross staff and volunteers are on high alert. In France, volunteers are patrolling the streets, providing water and hygiene kits and visiting isolated and older people in their homes.
“If necessary, the emergency operations centre at our headquarters can be opened to coordinate the response to this emergency,” said French Red Cross spokesperson Alain Rissetto.
In Spain, 50 staff in the Red Cross operations centre are currently calling vulnerable and older people to check they are safe and to give advice on how to cope with the heat. And in Belgium volunteers are distributing water and checking on older community members.
Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat extremes globally, underscoring the urgent need to manage heatwave risks effectively and to prevent avoidable strain being put on already stretched health care services. The risks are particularly high in cities, where the impacts can be most severe.
Heatwaves can have a catastrophic human toll. In 2003, for example, an estimated 70,000 people died during a record-breaking heatwave in Europe.
Next month, IFRC and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre will launch new guidelines designed to help cities better support their vulnerable residents during heatwaves.