COVID-19: Scaling up testing and strengthening national health systems with EU support
Since the beginning of the pandemic, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have been supporting their countries’ health authorities in the fight against COVID-19 through a wide range of services to help curb the spread of the virus and ensure nobody is left behind.
In Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, National Societies expanded mobile testing capacities thanks to a EUR 35.5 million partnership between the European Commission and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The European Commission financed this project as part of its Emergency Support Instrument to boost testing capacities and provide immediate support to Member States. The project’s success – it trained and equipped more testing teams as initially targeted – shows the value of a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic amongst European Red Cross National Societies.
From September 2020 to September 2021, this initiative has been a vital part of the COVID-19 response, making RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing available for more people. Local Red Cross teams performed more than 1.2 million tests within the scope of the project. Moreover, 6,800 Red Cross staff and volunteers were trained for testing and 1,428 mobile teams were set up and equipped to provide COVID-19 testing services.
The outreach role of National Red Cross Societies and their capacity to reach vulnerable groups has been particularly important in countries like Greece and Malta, where the Red Cross provided health and care services to migrants and refugees. Set up in camps and remote areas, these testing facilities aimed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 where access to health services was often limited.
“Testing is essential to help contain the pandemic. With all its initial targets surpassed, the project has proven that National Societies can play a key role in supporting national health systems in Europe and has opened new possibilities for further collaboration with health authorities,” said IFRC project coordinator Francisco Fong.
Local Red Cross teams also set up testing stations at transport hubs where a large number of people pass by every day. In Italy, staff and volunteers offered rapid antigen tests free of charge at 10 train stations across the country for travellers and commuters. In countries like Austria, Germany, Portugal and Spain, the Red Cross mobile testing teams have been invaluable in reaching out to marginalised communities in the countryside, where many people don’t have health insurance.
As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge across Europe, collective efforts are more important than ever to disrupt transmission chains and save lives. The partnership between the European Commission and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been instrumental in providing support to health authorities and curbing the spread of COVID-19.
| Press release
Hundreds of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers responding to wildfires across Europe
Ankara/Budapest/Geneva, 2 August 2021 – Volunteers from Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Turkey are responding to several wildfires raging across Europe. Scorching temperatures, high winds and tinder dry conditions have forced rescues by sea and land, with thousands of people fleeing for their lives with just the clothes on their backs.
In southern Turkey eight people have died and scores are injured. Hundreds of animals have been killed and countless homes lost in the worst hit areas of Antalya and Bodrum. More than 2,000 Turkish Red Crescent staff and volunteers are on the ground.
Shafiquzzaman Rabbani, Acting Head of Turkey delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said:
“We are very concerned at this week’s weather forecast, with temperatures tipped to reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius in Antalya today. Teams of Turkish Red Crescent volunteers and staff are doing everything they can to assist those affected.”
Turkish Red Crescent is providing food through its mobile kitchens, distributing water and hygiene kits, and providing shelter and psychosocial support to firefighters and affected communities.
In Greece, Hellenic Red Cross rescuers and lifeguards have been evacuating trapped people by boat from the settlements of Kamares, Longos and Platiri. Earlier in the week they were helping the fire brigade quell a fire in Patras. Extreme temperatures forecast for this week have teams on high alert.
Italian Red Cross has been assisting with evacuations in Sardinia and distributing water and food. They have delivered animal feed to farmers as fires continued over the weekend. More than 800 flare-ups were recorded this weekend, mainly in the south, and firefighters continue to flight blazes in Sicily.
Spanish Red Cross volunteers have also been busy this weekend assisting at a fire at San Juan reservoir, 70km from Madrid, and 25 Russian Red Cross volunteers are still at the scene of a fire in Karelia, distributing food, water, bedding, hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to people affected.
IFRC Europe’s acting head of Disaster, Climate and Crises Antoine Belair said the increasing number of wildfires year on year across the Mediterranean is linked to climate change causing more extreme weather conditions, including lower rainfall and higher temperatures.
“Extreme weather conditions exacerbate risks of these events. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies remain on high alert, providing support to affected populations, in close coordination with national authorities and firefighter teams,” he said.
Footnote: Advice on how to prepare for a forest fire can be viewed here.
For more information, please contact:
In Ankara: Elif Isik, +90 539 857 5197, [email protected]
In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, [email protected]
In Geneva: Nathalie Perroud, +41 79 538 14 71, [email protected]
| Press release
COVID-19: IFRC warns Europe’s poorest countries are being left behind, as deaths hit grim milestone
Budapest/Geneva, 21 April 2020 – As Europe reaches the grim milestone of 50 million infections and 1 million lives lost to COVID-19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for more equitable access to vaccination to counter disparities across countries and ensure no one is left behind.
More than a year into the pandemic, the situation continues to worsen despite vaccination rollout. The Europe region accounts for one third of cases and deaths worldwide, and the socio-economic crisis is deepening as newly vulnerable people seek help to meet their basic needs.
Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said: “Vaccine inequity is both concerning and dangerous. COVID-19 does not stop at borders, and our safety relies on widespread immunization. However, some of the poorest countries in Europe are struggling to move forward.”
As of 6 April, just 12.3 per cent of the population in Europe had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the lack of equitable access to immunization is still worrying: in low income countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, only 0.4 per cent of total inhabitants had been vaccinated, on average, while in the richest countries that figure stood at 17.7 per cent.
The IFRC is seeking funding for its immunization plan, targeting 500 million of the most vulnerable people around the world, as part of the organization's emergency appeal to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, at present this is only 51 per cent covered. Without more funding, IFRC will be unable to make a meaningful difference for those in need.
Dr Mukhamadiev said it is crucial for governments to step up their commitments towards ensuring that everyone has equal and timely access to the vaccine.
“Equity is both a moral and public health imperative. None of us is safe, until we are all safe. At the national level, it is essential to guarantee that homeless, migrants – irrespective of their status – and other vulnerable groups are included in vaccination plans.”
Hopes of Europe returning to normality are fading, as health systems in many countries continue to be overburdened and intensive care units reach a critical point.
“Worryingly, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe are still witnessing the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic every day, everywhere,” warned Dr Mukhamadiev.
“Volunteers who run ambulance services or support nursing homes and hospitals are directly confronted with illness and death, while those providing other types of assistance now deal with increased human suffering and people in need, including the newly vulnerable: including those who have lost their jobs and can’t make ends meet and those who cannot deal with difficulties such as isolation,” he said.
In Spain, for example, 52 per cent of the people who asked for psychosocial support through the Spanish Red Cross’ ‘Cruz Roja Te Escucha’ service in the last months had never sought help from the organization before. Two thirds of the total reported having emotional distress most or all the time – including depression and anxiety.
Dr Mukhamadiev said the key to successfully combatting successive waves of COVID-19 is vaccination and testing, together with improved treatments and preventative measures. People should continue to routinely wearmasks, wash hands and keep physical distance, as those measures play a major role in mitigating the spread of the virus.
Note to editors:
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have reached nearly 100 million people with health and hygiene promotion activities since the beginning of the pandemic. They have also provided food and other material aid to more than 14.4 million, cash or voucher assistance to 2.9 million, and psychosocial support to 1.8 million.
Local teams are working tirelessly to help the most vulnerable, and continue stepping up vaccination, testing and awareness-raising interventions. Here are some examples:
In Spain, staff and volunteers have assisted more than 3.5 million people through the ‘Cruz Roja Responde’ multisectoral plan, which includes emergency services and the set-up of temporary hospitals and shelters together with other types of support; they are also testing migrants rescued from the sea, and supporting vaccination in nursing homes and for persons with disabilities.
In Italy, staff and volunteers are running one of the largest vaccination centres in the country, in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Furthermore, volunteers are sharing information on a web radio station run by young migrants, and running podcasts on COVID-19; they are translating materials into migrants’ own languages, and circulating them in reception centres while operating a toll-free 24/7 hotline.
In Greece, staff and volunteers in the islands, Athens and Thessaloniki are giving a hand with the health screening for migrants, they are responding to thousands of daily calls to their multi-language hotline, and they are disseminating preventative messaging. They have also supported the routine vaccination of migrants, and stand ready to assist in COVID-19 immunization.
In Serbia, staff and volunteers are involved in the nation-wide vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and have assisted some 447,750 people – from phone calls for vaccination appointments to distributing leaflets, transporting vulnerable people, helping at the immunization points with temperature checks and paperwork – and, in some places, organizing vaccination in Red Cross premises.
National Societies in seven countries (Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) are additionally scaling up COVID-19 testing thanks to a €35.5 million partnership with the European Commission.
 Data from the World Health Organization (WHO)
Masouma: Volunteering because she cares
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRC
Masouma, a young Afghani woman living at the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Greece for the last six months, is a shining example of an empowered woman.
A mother of two, Masouma dedicates much of her free time to volunteering for the Red Cross. Her role as a hygiene promoter is to help her community stay aware of the biggest public health risks, to use safe hygiene practices and make the best use of the water and sanitation facilities.
“I feel it is my responsibility to care for my community. I would say that no matter who you are, you have the power to impact the lives around you through volunteering,” Masouma said.
She helps the community understand more about the diseases that come from poor hygiene and sanitation, as well as good hygiene practices, the best use of personal hygiene items. She visits people in their tents, and is involved in advisory, mediation and referral services.
“I have learned that service is using the gifts you already possess to improve others’ current circumstances.As a young woman, it is so empowering to me to be involved with humanitarian efforts because it is the most influential and powerful thing you can do,” she said.
Red Cross works to improve water and sanitation infrastructure and hygiene awareness at the camp. Training of hygiene promotion community volunteers remains a priority to encourage community ownership.
“I feel proud of the work within my community and our common efforts to make Kara Tepe a better place to live. By improving hygiene, educating about hygiene, and promoting good handwashing, we have seen a significant reduction of diarrhoeal cases among children,” she says.
Volunteering can also support successful integration between the different communities in the camp by fostering exchange, increased contact, and building mutual awareness.
“Volunteering helped me to gain new skills but the most important is that I have made new friends from different cultural backgrounds that allows me to build an understanding that no religion or culture is better than the other but that each has its unique features!”
Hellenic Red Cross
Meta: “Volunteering gave me a sense of purpose”
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRCMeta is a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently living in Kara Tepe Refugee Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. She said she was forced to flee her home when her life was in danger arriving by boat at Lesvos eight months ago via Turkey.“I was in danger there. I had no choice but to flee. I have witnessed people getting killed, women getting raped and people’s property looted and destroyed,” she said.“Life is not easy here, but I hope that soon I will have a positive response from the Asylum Service and start a new life,” she said.Meta is one of the 72 Red Cross hygiene promotion community volunteers in Kara Tepe. She cares about her community and she relishes her role advising women on how to use and keep the shower facilities clean. Alongside other volunteers, she educates refugee women about the risks of contracting infectious illnesses in unsanitary places and how to prevent them.Spreading the right messages on hygiene good practices to help women avoid various types of diseases is more than just simple volunteering.“As a human being, I felt, within me that call, the human dignity, to channel my energy into doing something. Women need to be advised to preserve their health and I love doing that. I will be forever grateful to the Red Cross for giving me this opportunity to be useful, keep me busy and to not cry all the time over the tough life I've been through,” said Meta.Becoming a community volunteer can have a profoundly positive psychological benefit for people. Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, anxiety and even depression, common among people who may have experienced trauma at home or on the journey to Greece.“I have a purpose within me now and as long as I’m here, I will continue working. What Red Cross is doing here is a great initiative. I encourage you to continue with such activities that make us feel strong and safe”, said Meta with a radiant smile, as she made a heart shape with her fingers.
| Press release
Red Cross expands COVID-19 testing in seven countries with €35.5 million EU support
Budapest/Geneva, 19 November 2020 – As Europe continues to experience a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, the Red Cross will scale up COVID-19 testing with the announcement of a €35.5 million European Commission partnership.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has signed an agreement with the European Commission, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), which will see COVID-19 testing carried out by National Red Cross Societies in Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.
Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are scaling up their support to embattled national health systems. The European Commission’s funding will support staff training and allow access to equipment, lab items and reagents to take samples and perform PCR and rapid antigen tests in support of national health authorities’ work.
IFRC Europe Regional Director, Birgitte Ebbesen, said that hundreds of thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Europe and Central Asia are working tirelessly to curb the spread of the pandemic.
“We are truly grateful for this contribution, which allows an even stronger European Red Cross and Red Crescent engagement. Our volunteers are already working around the clock to keep their local communities safe and healthy.
“Besides COVID-19 testing, they are also assisting with transporting patients, volunteering in hospitals and health centres where medical personnel are sick or isolating and providing home care services and psychosocial support for vulnerable people. We are deeply grateful for their dedication and selfless work.”
Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
“Being efficient on testing also requires having the necessary resources, which is why we are stepping up our support to increase Member States’ testing capacity. Support and solidarity are key to overcome this pandemic,” she added.
| Press release
Red Crescent and Red Cross provide urgent assistance following powerful earthquake in Turkey and Greece
Izmir/Ankara/Budapest/Geneva, 31 October 2020 – Turkish Red Crescent Society (Türk Kizilay) is continuing to provide life-saving assistance to people affected by the 6.6 magnitude earthquake that struck yesterday off Turkey's Aegean coast, north of the Greek island of Samos.
According to initial reports by Turkish authorities, at least 25 people have lost their lives, more than 800 have been injured, and several buildings have collapsed or sustained damage following the tremors.
“Right now, we have a critical life-saving window – our teams are focused on ensuring people get the urgent support they need in the hours and days after this earthquake, including hot meals, hygiene items and psychosocial support,” said Ibrahim Ozer, Turkish Red Crescent Deputy Director General for Disaster Management from Izmir, the most affected area in Turkey.
“Many are also unable to return home due to the aftershocks and we’re focused on ensuring some of their most basic needs are met – such as food, emergency housing and other essential items.”
More than 140 Turkish Red Crescent volunteers and personnel were immediately sent to the affected area. Volunteers have been supporting authorities in search and rescue efforts, providing psychosocial support as well as deploying their mobile kitchens with the capacity to serve 56,300 people with hot food.
In Greece, which was also hit by the earthquake, a Hellenic Red Cross rescue team has arrived on the island of Samos and is working with authorities to determine the most pressing needs. The teams are trained in first aid, rescue and water provision among other emergency skills.
Two teenagers died on Samos after a wall collapsed on them while they were walking home from school.
IFRC regional director for Europe Birgitte Ebbesen said the quick response by Turkish Red Crescent and Hellenic Red Cross rescue teams was to be commended and showed the importance of local preparedness and action.
“Turkish Red Crescent and Hellenic Red Cross volunteers are in every town and city across their countries. They are part of the communities they serve - they know the people and their needs. We thank them for their selfless and life-saving work and stand ready to support in any way we can.”
AV content from Turkey:
AV content from Greece:
Lesvos, Greece: A good-hearted girl in need of heart surgery
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRC
22-year-old Nour from Syria was lying under an olive tree in distress. She was nine months pregnant with her fifth child and feeling unwell. That is where I found her, and immediately called for assistance. Two nurses from the Hellenic Red Cross came to examine her health condition and give her comfort.
Nour’s family decided to flee to Turkey after their house in Syria was destroyed by a bomb. They attempted to cross the border but were turned back five times before they succeeded. She just couldn’t give up – she wanted to give her children a “better life and a brighter future.”
From Turkey, the family crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece only to find themselves in the notorious Moria camp on the island of Lesvos. A year ago, when they had settled down in Moria, Nour realized that she had to fight yet another battle.
Her 3-year-old daughter, Tabia (which means good-hearted in Arabic), was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, “a hole in the heart”, which has a mortality rate of 90 per cent before age 10.
“I have to save Tabia. She needs to be treated otherwise her life is at risk. We had an appointment at the Tzaneio hospital in Athens for a surgery, but the fires destroyed all my hopes,” said Nour.
After devastating fires destroyed Moria camp, Nour and her family were not allowed to leave the island, so they were not able to transfer Tabia to the hospital in Athens for her surgery appointment.
“My life is a daily struggle here in Lesvos. There’s dust, noise, lack of water, everything,” said Nour. “It's better than living in the street but still is so bad. I don’t want to give birth here.”
Thanks to coordinated actions with IOM and UNHCR, it was quickly decided to transfer Nour and her family to a safer and more appropriate place for her to give birth.
Upon hearing the good news, Nour held my hands tightly saying with a sparkling smile, “Thank you so much. Red Cross nurses made me feel that I am respected again because there are people who care about me.”
How Tabia’s heart condition is going to be treated is still a concern.
| Press release
Residents of Moria camp must be moved now – Red Cross head
Geneva, Budapest, Athens, 11 September 2020 – The President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Francesco Rocca said Moria camp in Greece is not fit for humans, and migrants and refugees staying there must be moved immediately to a safe place.Around 13,000 people are lacking food, water and shelter, after devastating fires on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. At the time of the first fire the camp was under lockdown due to more than 30 COVID19 positive cases.“The Moria camp was already unfit for humans before the fire, with four times as many people than it was built for. The situation was extremely unhealthy, with no ability to physically distance to avoid COVID19,” said Mr Rocca, who visited the camp in March.“Enough is enough. Now is the time to show some humanity and move these people to a healthy, safe and humane place. There are 4,000 children in Moria and no child should have to endure this,” Mr Rocca said.The president of Hellenic Red Cross Dr. Antonios Avgerinos said his organization had already sent staff and aid and stood ready to do anything it could to assist.“Our first truck has arrived on Lesvos with 6.5 tonnes of aid, including blankets, water and hygiene kits. We have disaster management experts on site as well as the Lesvos branch staff and volunteers who are skilled in first aid, psychosocial support (PSS) and restoring family links (RFL),” he said.“One of our mobile health units with 10 nurses trained in emergency health will arrive on Lesvos this afternoon. We also have 10 Samaritans trained in first aid giving assistance on the island already. And we will deploy more medical staff shortly.“We are ready to mobilise further support and are working in close consultation with local authorities and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum to help with the immediate and long terms needs on Lesvos,” Dr Avgerinos explained.400 unaccompanied children have already been flown to the mainland and 1,000 of the most vulnerable will be housed on a ship. But thousands more are sleeping on the roadside.Mr Rocca said evacuating migrants from the Greek islands was a humanitarian imperative and required concrete actions of solidarity by EU Member States.“This is a European crisis. Simply containing people is not the solution. EU member states’ solidarity with Greece and the people of Lesvos is needed now more than ever. Member States must also ensure that relocated individuals have prompt access to protection and fair asylum procedures, and that includes not carrying out pushbacks,” Mr Rocca said.Mr Rocca said states are too often using refugees and migrants as part of an unacceptable and immoral political game and said coronavirus had made things “an absolute disaster” for people on the move.Hellenic Red Cross is also actively responding to urgent migration needs in other camps and urban centres in mainland Greece. Services include mobile health units in several migrant camps, 5 centres for unaccompanied children, 2 multifunctional centres for migrants in Athens and Thessaloniki, educational health services, referral programmes and a national helpline.These activities were scaled up earlier this year with the support of IFRC’s emergency appeal MDR65003 Turkey/Greece Population Movement.IFRC’s Emergency Plan of Action is currently being revised and will be adjusted to reflect any additional needs as a result of the fire. Those wanting to respond to the crisis on Lesvos should donate to this appeal.Photos are available here
“Volunteering saved my life”
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRCJack is an Iranian engineer living in Greece. Back home in Tehran he owned his own construction company and was surrounded by a close-knit group of friends, colleagues and family. But that all changed one day.“I had to leave Tehran because my life was in danger. It was a difficult and horrible experience having to make the journey to Greece,” Jack says.“No one can imagine what it’s like being forced to leave your home, fearful for your life, unless they’ve been through it. I miss my friends and family, my job and the life I had.”Life wasn’t easy when he first arrived in Greece. He was homeless and destitute. But determined to rebuild his life from scratch, he kept his spirits up by working as a volunteer for various charities in Thessaloniki.“Volunteering saved my live. Without it I would have lost the will to live,” he says quietly.Two months after arriving in Greece, Jack managed to enrol in the cash assistance programme run by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).“That money gave me hope. The first thing I bought was a tent. Until then, I was sleeping rough in Diavata Camp,” says Jack with a bittersweet smile.Sometime later he started working as a volunteer for the IFRC. He helps other asylum seekers navigate the Greek system and boost their self-confidence and resilience. ''We are asylum seekers but we can also have achievements.''Then in November 2019 Jack successfully applied for the position of the Cultural Mediator with IFRC. Being an asylum seeker himself helps him understand better than anyone the everyday challenges people face.Now he’s waiting for a decision on his own asylum application, so he can pursue his dream of practising as an engineer in Greece.“Greece gave me protection, so Greece is like my home now. There is no word that can describe what that feeling is like,” he smiles. “Greece has given me freedom and safety.”
Greece: “I’m halfway to reaching my dreams”
By Georgia Trismpioti, IFRC
Somaya dreams of becoming a medical doctor and bringing relief to those who are suffering. Somaya and her family had to flee war-torn Afghanistan and sought refuge in Iran. She and her family have had a difficult life, but Somaya continues to chase her dreams of making a meaningful contribution to society.
Somaya and her husband fled their home country - war-torn Afghanistan - in search of safety. "I left Afghanistan because there was always a feeling of being unsafe, anything could happen at any time," she says. ”For women in Afghanistan, there is no possibility for personal and professional growth.”
Happy when helping others
In early March 2020, Somaya and her family arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos after enduring more than 12 hours at sea in an unmanned dinghy. Two weeks later they were transferred to the Malakasa refugee camp in mainland Greece.
“It is not what you might expect when you hear the words ‘refugee camp’, but life here is a privilege compared to Lesvos. I’m halfway to reaching my dreams for a better life,” she says with a radiant smile.
Despite their uncertain situation, this optimistic and resilient woman is not one to sit idle. Somaya is volunteering as an interpreter with the Hellenic Red Cross at the Malakasa camp.
“I want to help people and I’m happy when I am able to make people's life easier. It is gratifying work I’m doing here every day and when I sleep at nights I’m having sweet dreams,” Somaya says with a laugh.
Empress Shôken Fund announces grants for 2020
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime. It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 16 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways. The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. The Fund has assisted more than 160 National Societies thus far.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is shown by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are usually announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of her death. This year the announcement is being published earlier owing to the Easter holidays.
The selection process
The Empress Shôken Fund received 36 applications in 2020, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 400,160 Swiss francs to 14 projects in Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, Lithuania, Montenegro, Namibia, Palestine, Panama, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda.
The projects to be supported in 2020 cover a number of themes, including first aid, youth engagement and disaster preparedness. Moreover, nearly all of the selected projects seek to strengthen the volunteer base of National Societies, with a view to building on the unique role played by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in communities everywhere. The Fund encourages new and innovative approaches that are geared towards learning, so that the broader Movement can benefit from project findings.
The 2020 grants
TheArgentine Red Crosshas launched a generational change in its leadership by promoting volunteers’ access to decision-making bodies. It will use the grant to design and build virtual courses, creating new spaces for dialogue and debate.
For years, the Bulgarian Red Cross has been a major partner of the State in the field of first aid, helping it to respond effectively in a crisis. The National Society will use the grant to reinforce its leadership position by introducing an online first-aid training platform that will facilitate theoretical learning and increase the number of trained first-aiders.
The Hellenic Red Cross seeks to empower local communities in vulnerable or isolated areas. The grant will go towards establishing branch and community disaster teams that will build communities’ resilience through activities and training around disaster risk reduction.
In Iraq, late detection of breast cancer is common and makes the disease much deadlier. To save women’s lives, theIraqi Red Crescent Societywill use the grant to train female volunteers who will raise awareness of early detection methods for breast cancer.
The Lithuanian Red Cross will put the grant towards an innovative digital platform for evaluating the impact of its first-aid courses, issuing and tracking certifications, and connecting with first-aiders after they complete their training.
Young people account for more than 80% of the volunteers of the Red Cross of Montenegro. The National Society will use the grant to improve its activities and services with the aim of strengthening youth participation and raising awareness of volunteer opportunities.
As Namibia’s population grows, first-aid skills and services are more in demand than ever before. The grant will enable the Namibia Red Cross to run intensive first-aid training and certification courses in ten schools.
To better serve the communities it works with, thePalestine Red Crescent Society seeks to build its staff members’ and volunteers’ capacities. It will use the grant to establish a computer lab as a continuing-education unit for all of its staff and volunteers.
In Panama, gang violence has shot up in recent years, and pollution continues to grow owing to a lack of public awareness. The Red Cross Society of Panama will use the grant to develop a series of activities aimed at promoting a culture of peace and environmental responsibility.
Blood transfusion services are an essential component of Sierra Leone’s health-care system. The grant will enable the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to increase access to safe blood products, especially for pregnant woman and infants.
In Timor-Leste, 70% of the population is under 30 years old, but accessing information about reproductive health can be difficult, particularly in rural areas. The Timor Leste Red Cross will use the grant for a public-awareness and education campaign for young people on reproductive health.
The Tonga Red Cross Society will use the grant to improve students' access to health care and physical activity by using safer vehicles for transportation.
The Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society is exploring novel approaches to teaching disaster preparedness and increasing public awareness on the subject. The grant will enable the National Society to use virtual-reality technology to teach the public about the reality and impact of disasters.
In Uganda, 70% of blood donors are students, so the country faces blood shortages outside term time. The Uganda Red Cross Society will use the grant to develop its online recruitment of adult blood donors so as to counteract any seasonal shortfalls during the holidays.
| Press release
Greece-Turkey Border: Migrants must not be used as a political tool. The EU and Member States must act in solidarity now.
Geneva/Budapest, 3 March 2020– Women, children and men caught up in the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the land border between Greece and Turkey, in the Greek islands and in the Aegean Sea must not be “used as a political tool”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned today.
Speaking of the deteriorating humanitarian situation, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “It is unacceptable that children and families are exposed to tear gas and violence or have to risk their lives in the Aegean Sea. We will not be silent in the face of this dire humanitarian situation, which may become even worse in the next hours and days.”
The IFRC is deeply concerned that thousands of people, including vulnerable children, may suffer the consequences of the recent surge of migrants trying to cross the border between Turkey and Greece. While Governments have the right and responsibility to set migration policies and to control their own borders, steps should be taken to ensure the implementation of such policies do not increase suffering.
“EU Member States should respond in a spirit of solidarity to the recent increase in numbers of people seeking refuge at the EU’s external borders. They must enact their responsibilities in protecting people and saving lives. EU governments cannot turn their backs on Turkey and Greece. Southern European States cannot be left alone. All States have a responsibility to protect people and save lives,” President Rocca said.
“We call on the EU and the national Governments to avoid using migrants as a political tool, to ensure that asylum seekers can apply for international protection, in line with international and EU laws. Access to humanitarian assistance and essential services, including healthcare, ought to be guaranteed for all people, in particular children and other vulnerable groups,” he ended.
| Press release
Statement on the Hellenic Red Cross reinstated as a member of IFRC
Geneva, 10 December 2019 – The Governing Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has lifted the suspension of Hellenic Red Cross with immediate effect.
The Governing Board recognized that Hellenic Red Cross has made significant progress since being suspended on 1 January 2019, after concerns relating to its governance. That progress includes: A complete revision of the Hellenic Red Cross statutes, raising of the membership from 2,000 to more than 20,000, holding a successful General Assembly and design of a recovery plan.
Announcing the return of Hellenic Red Cross, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said it was positive news for the whole Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
“We showed that integrity and accountability are key priorities for us, and we have the systems in place to detect any possible issue and to act accordingly. It is very important to have a well functioning National Society in Greece where there are many humanitarian challenges.
“We are deeply committed to supporting the Hellenic Red Cross and its activities for its local communities and vulnerable migrants in the country.”
IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy said he encouraged all Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies to “stand ready to support the Hellenic Red Cross in its path to re-establish itself as the strong and healthy National Society”.
However, the Governing Board noted that the Hellenic Red Cross still has areas to improve, and has requested the Compliance and Mediation Committee (CMC) to continue its monitoring role and further support the Hellenic Red Cross. In addition, the suspension measure can be reinstated at any time in case of regress.
Mr Rocca said IFRC remains committed to the volunteers and staff of the Hellenic Red Cross, and to supporting the renewal of an effective, vibrant and viable Hellenic Red Cross.