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Terror in London

When terrorist bombers struck the London transport system on 7 July, killing more than 50 people and injuring some 700, the British Red Cross swung into action within minutes. Ambulances and trained volunteers were sent to the scenes of the four explosions, helping hundreds of people caught up in the blasts and providing vital back-up to the emergency services.

Later in the day, as stressed commuters returned to their homes in and around the capital, volunteers provided support and comfort to those in shock after the day’s events. The British Red Cross’s response to the incident — the biggest emergency in the capital for many years — did not stop there. In the days and weeks following the bombings, the Red Cross has continued to play a major role in providing practical support and comfort to survivors, the bereaved and anyone affected in any way.

The Red Cross was the lead voluntary agency at a Family Assistance Centre set up by the British authorities in the wake of the attacks, and took over its management soon after. More than 600 people have received support and advice to date. And a telephone support line staffed by Red Cross volunteers is still running, providing information and comfort to more than 1,200 callers in the weeks following the blasts.

The British Red Cross was asked by the Mayor of London to set up and administer the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund, which has raised more than US$ 13.7 million for the families of those killed and the seriously wounded. By the end of August, US$ 791,000 had been granted to 126 applicants, and further payments are expected shortly.

The authorities and the statutory services have praised the commitment shown by the volunteers and staff of the British Red Cross throughout this period. Martin Flaherty, London Ambulance Service director of operations and deputy chief ambulance officer, later wrote to British Red Cross chief executive Sir Nicholas Young to express his thanks. “Thank you very much for providing us with the aid that meant that together we responded not only to the bombings, but to the needs of other seriously ill and injured Londoners who experienced emergencies during the hours of the major incident,” he said.

Following the November 2004 Civil Contingencies Act, the UK government must make provision for the contribution of voluntary agencies alongside the statutory services in its emergency planning. After the tragic events of 7 July, the importance of the work of organizations such as the British Red Cross cannot be overlooked. The lessons learned from these attacks will strengthen the response to future emergencies, whenever and wherever they occur.

 

©DAVID WEBB / BRITISH RED CROSS


Free at last

On 18 August 2005, the Polisario Front released all 404 Moroccan prisoners in its custody. They have been repatriated to Morocco under the auspices of the ICRC, following mediation by the United States. Their repatriation ends more than 20 years of internment — some of them were captured in 1975 — and marks an important step in resolving the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in the Western Sahara. For these men who had been cut off from the world for so long, the visits paid by ICRC delegates during all these years provided an opportunity to receive news of their families. However, the first and foremost concern of the released prisoners was how they were going to be received back home.

Meanwhile the ICRC will pursue its efforts to ensure that the fate of all those reported missing in this conflict is discovered, and that families suffering the uncertainty of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones obtain satisfactory information.

 

©MARC BOUVIER / ICRC

 


Emergencyassistancein Iraq

More than 800 people were reportedly crushed to death or drowned in the Tigris River on 31 August when panic spread through the thousands of pilgrims who were marching towards the Kadhimiya mosque in northern Baghdad to honour the shrine of Imam Musa Kadhim. A rumour of the presence of a suicide bomber is said to have sparked the panic. Most of the victims were women and children. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) immediately sent 50 volunteers to the scene of the disaster, where it set up a first-aid post. It brought in ambulances, four-wheel-drive cars and a minibus to evacuate the dead and the injured and sent trucks to deliver first-aid kits and blankets to three hospitals in the area. The IRCS also delivered body bags, stretchers, bed sheets and further medical supplies (bandages, plasters, cotton) to the hospitals.

Following the escalation in Tal-Afar, northern Iraq, more people fled their homes. The IRCS estimates that around 5,000 families have taken refuge in surrounding towns and villages following the escalation of violence in the city in September. The IRCS has set up camps around Tal-Afar to host displaced families and the ICRC has supplied the IRCS’s Mosul branch with 5,000 individual food baskets, 1,000 jerrycans, 1,000 buckets, 1,000 blankets, 100 tents, 600 kerosene stoves and 600 hygiene kits. Since the start of the military operation in Tal-Afar in July, the ICRC has been providing 900 families with 180,000 litres of drinking water a day.

 


©REUTERS / THAIERAL-SUDANI, COURTESY www.alertnet.org


An additional emblem

On 13 September, the Swiss government announced its intention to convene a diplomatic conference before the end of this year to adopt an additional emblem alongside the red cross and red crescent emblems. This intention was warmly welcomed by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An additional emblem would provide a comprehensive and lasting solution to the emblem question.

The diplomatic conference would convene the governments of the 192 states that are party to the Geneva Conventions to consider the adoption of a third additional protocol to the Conventions, creating an additional protective emblem. The new sign is “a red frame in the shape of a square on edge on a white ground” and would enjoy equal status in all respects with the red cross and red crescent. It is known as the “red crystal”.

The additional emblem would be free of any perception of religious, political or other connotation. It would enable National Societies that have not been able to use the existing emblems to become full members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, enabling the Movement to fulfil its fundamental principle of universality.

The ICRC and the International Federation will continue to use their existing emblems. So will National Societies. But in exceptional circumstances, they, and national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, will be able to use the additional emblem to facilitate their work.

 


Dunant on screen

The last film about Henry Dunant was more than 50 years ago. Based on a true story, Red on the Cross is a fictional adaptation of Henry Dunant’s quest that resulted in the founding of the Red Cross. The film portrays Dunant’s five years of efforts to convince the countries of the world to allow a relief organization to take care of soldiers who fell on the battlefield, without distinction for whom they fought. The epic story is a major international co-production involving Bohemian Films, Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR, Switzerland), Dune, France 2, Pale Blue Productions (Austria) and ENTV (Algeria) with the support of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Written by Claude-Michel Rome with co-writer and director, Dominique Othenin-Girard, this 90-minute television film features an international cast, including Thomas Jouannet as Henry Dunant, Emilie Dequenne, Jean-François Balmer, Michel Galabru and Tom Novembre. Red on the Cross will also be available on a DVD with bonus features including an update of the history of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

 

©DAVID KOSKAS

 


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