26 July 2006
Volunteers at a border crossing point in Syria attending to people leaving Lebanon. (Courtesy: IFRC)
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) has mobilized its staff and volunteers across the country in the wake of the hostilities between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group. Four operational centres have been set up in cities near major border crossing points from Lebanon to Syria (Damascus, Homs, Tartous as well as SARCS headquarters) to receive people fleeing the fighting.
Some 100 volunteers are working around the clock, assisting thousands of evacuees and providing water, food and first aid services to those who need it. They are helping transport people to temporary shelter locations, registering beneficiaries, and providing logistical support to relief convoys moving towards the border with Lebanon.
In Dabbusiyyeh border town, 70 kilometres from Homs a Red Crescent ambulance is permanently stationed at the border. Latest reports are that at least 150 refugees have been sheltered temporarily in a school there, since it is closed for summer vacation.
More than 1,000 families have already been accommodated in schools, dormitories and monasteries in Damascus. The SARCS and other charities supplied beds, blankets and pillows. More than 8,000 hot meals are provided to refugees every day and more shelter is being prepared to accommodate more people as hostilities intensify.
For SARCS volunteers, preparations for the current crisis did not begin at the same time as hostilities. In fact, they began nearly five years ago when the Red Crescent initiated a series of training workshops and camps on disaster preparedness and management.
With assistance from the International Federation, the SARCS began to train a large number of its staff and volunteers in disaster management, created a national disaster intervention team and conducted a vulnerability and capacity assessment.
Over those five years, the Red Crescent was put to the test several times. Its staff and volunteers were the first to respond to the collapse of the Zaizon dam in 2003 and they were immediately mobilized in Al-Kallaseh, when several buildings collapsed, killing and injuring dozens of people.
The conflict in Iraq was another test, during which the SARCS organized several major campaigns to support the Iraq Red Crescent in its assistance programmes for the people of Iraq.
To assist evacuees from Lebanon, the Red Crescent has begun a major donation campaign in Syria in cooperation with the private sector, local non-governmental organizations and some radio stations.
For example, Globalcom, Syriatel, and Areeba, the three major mobile telecommunications companies, have dedicated hotlines for the campaign.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society is also coordinating international assistance to Lebanon through Syria.
So far, large shipments of food items, kitchen utensils, tents and medicines have been received from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent, and the Hashemite Charity of Jordan. The SARCS also donated 4 ambulances and 42 tonnes of relief items to the Lebanese Red Cross.