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Algeria’s toll of terror

by El Kantari
Algeria is living one of the darkest moments in its history. Barely a day passes without some new addition to the list of innocent victims; hardly a family has been left unscathed. There seems no limit to the unspeakable suffering caused by the reign of terror gripping virtually the entire country.

The tragedy unfolding in Algeria has been the cause of much bloodshed. The international community remains horrified and bewildered by the stories and images broadcast regularly in the media. This blind violence which too often targets civilians and takes the lives of the elderly, women and children, is incomprehensible. With no end in sight, comfort is found in the gestures of help between ordinary people.

The Algerian Red Crescent was founded and developed during the difficult years of the war of independence. Today the population is in as great a need as ever of the National Society’s assistance. And despite the present suffering and chaos – or perhaps because of it – there exists within the National Society a common desire to stand firm in the face of the torment that afflicts the country. Numerous are the volunteers working courageously for a better Algeria.




When horror becomes commonplace

Teams of Red Crescent volunteers have been organized to intervene as soon as an attack is reported. Their presence in the field is a powerful source of solace for the victims. But tragically, members of these volunteer teams all too often recognize their own friends or family members among the dead and injured.

Amir’s story is typical. He was unemployed when he took up service in one of the rapid intervention units of the Algiers section of the Red Crescent. One day, his unit received a radio message to go immediately to the scene of a violent explosion that had wrought terrible human and material damage. To his great distress, Amir learned that the area of the town that had been targeted for the bomb attack was once again Belcourt, his neighbourhood. The scene the team came upon was apocalyptic, shrouded in thick black smoke and punctuated by the victims’ screams and the howling of sirens. Holding back his tears and revulsion, Amir immediately began to search among the smoking ruins. There’s no knowing what he must have felt on recognizing his little sister among the bodies lined up on the pavement. Showing no reaction, he continued with sheer determination to bring succour to those who needed help.

The day a bomb exploded aboard a bus crammed full of passengers, Lyés, a first-aid worker with the Algerian Red Crescent, was in the local hospital emergency room. “I will never forget the girl brought in by car, her whole body covered with third degree burns, nor the pain of incomprehension in her bright green eyes. She died the next day after being admitted to the severe burns department.”

“The only way we can overcome the numerous shocks of each intervention,” explains his colleague Sofianne, “is to make light of them as best we can. We first-aiders don’t yet have a support programme nor psychological follow-up.” After a moment’s pause, he adds: “Many’s the time we get together for a drink or two at a café just to let off steam. We each recount our day’s experiences in the hope of overcoming our revulsion. But life doesn’t come to a standstill; it goes on with all of its everyday problems and pleasures.”

The day after the terrible massacres in the villages of Raïs, Ben Talha and Sidi Hamed, the Red Crescent was once again called into action. “We counted the dead and injured by the hundred. The memory of the carnage will be with us for ever,” remembers one volunteer. “But we can’t allow ourselves to succumb to despair. For life must go on, and so many people are in need of our help.” To the survivors of such atrocities and to the inhabitants of the villages burnt to the ground, the Red Crescent brings both material and psychological support.

Assistance comes in many guises

In summer, the Algerian Red Crescent organizes holiday camps for the children of needy families or victims of violence. From all over Algeria they come to enjoy a short vacation by the sea. During Ramadan, the organization runs soup kitchens serving more than 800,000 hot meals to homeless and other disadvantaged people and handing out roughly 370,000 food parcels to the families most in need. These programmes are supported by gifts from various public and private enterprises. The ICRC contributes some 10,000 US dollars to each of these operations.

In addition to responding to internal calls for help, for the past three years the Red Crescent has administered the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assistance programme for Malian and Nigerien refugees fleeing conflicts in their countries. In October 1996, the Algerian Red Crescent worked jointly with other organizations on a programme of voluntary repatriation for the 10,000 people living in collective centres in the extreme south of the country. As a result of the success of this programme, the Algerian Red Crescent was recently invited, in close collaboration with the Mali Red Cross, to participate in a programme of socio-economic reintegration for returnees to northern Mali. The Algerian Red Crescent is also a leading participant in the UNHCR plan for the repatriation of Nigerien refugees.

It is evident that both regionally and nationally, the Algerian Red Crescent brings comfort to many. And although the perpetrators of the violence in Algeria and its neighbouring countries are often invisible, the expressions of compassion and courage are evident
on the faces of the Red Crescent


El Kantari
El Kantari is a freelance journalist living in Algeria.

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