UK, Canada, and Germany Will Rehome Syria's Evacuated White Helmets
The lifesaving volunteers and their families were spirited across the border on Saturday night.
The United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany will rehome the Syrian rescue volunteers known as the White Helmets, after they were evacuated from Syria this weekend.
On Saturday night, the Israeli defence forces brought 98 members of the White Helmets and their families into Israel, and then into Jordan, in the rescue mission.
While 422 people were rescued, according to reports, as many as 800 others weren’t able to escape, or chose to stay in Syria.
Canada has said it will take in up to 50 White Helmets and their families, totalling up to 250 people, according to Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC. Meanwhile, Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper that Germany will rehome eight White Helmets and their families.
Seehofer described it as “an expression of my stance of ensuring humanity and order in migration policy.”
Very pleased UK, with our friends, has evacuated some @SyriaCivilDef and their families to protect them from retribution. Incredibly brave and selfless individuals who have kept hope and humanity alive. Thanks to @DFID_UK@foreignoffice and all who helped make this happen.— Penny Mordaunt MP (@PennyMordaunt) July 22, 2018
Britain hasn’t yet confirmed how many of the remaining 40 White Helmets and their families it will welcome. It’s believed that those eligible to enter to UK under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme would be identified by processes established by the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), according to the Guardian.
“The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own,” said Britain’s new foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt in a joint statement.
“Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work — trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians,” they said. “White Helmets have been the target at attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection.”
“We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible,” they said. “We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.”
It’s reported that those being rehomed will arrive in Canada, Germany, and the UK within three months. They are currently being guarded in Jordan in a secure location.
The evacuation came after world leaders from the US, Canada, and Europe called for the White Helmets to be evacuated from Syria at this month’s NATO summit.
White Helmets teams were ready at the evacuation exchange point of the residents of #Kafraya and #Foua to ensure a safe transition and to provide first aid supplies for all who are in need. pic.twitter.com/0b0YCpb8jl— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) July 19, 2018
“Several days ago President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian prime minister Trudeau, and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of White Helmets from Syria,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
“These are people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger,” he said. “I therefore authorised their transfer via Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture.”
Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation and their families…due to an immediate threat to their lives.”
The White Helmets respond to airstrikes and other attacks, digging people out of the wreckage of their homes, administering first aid, and drawing international attention to the attrocities being inflicted on innocent civilians. They have been widely heralded for their life-saving work — including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and an Academy Award for a documentary about them.
But it comes at great personal risk. More than 250 of the volunteers have been killed in attacks, and a further 500 have been wounded.
And it’s believed the White Helmets would have been targeted by the Syrian army when it regains control of the south-western part of the country. Opposition-held territory in Syria has been shrinking in recent months, as a result of heavy bombardment from Syrian and Russian forces.
The Syrian government, along with its ally Russia, has previously spoken out against the White Helmets — branding them terrorists, and claiming they faked chemical attacks and staged rescue missions in order to criticise the government.
White Helmets firefighters teams managed to extinguish a huge fire that broke out in a petrol market in #Aldana city north of #Idlib, after an unknown explosion in the city after midnight. pic.twitter.com/TGbZehv0cx— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) July 19, 2018
But Jordan has closed its borders to refugees entering the kingdom, saying its refugee camps are already at capacity. More than 600,000 registered refugees from Palestine and Syria have arrived in Jordan, along with hundreds of thousands more unregistered refugees.
A spokesman, Mohammed al-Kayed, reportedly justified the exception being made for the White Helmets and their families by saying that the evacuation didn’t put any further strain on the kingdom, as the families would soon be rehomed in the UK, Canada, and Germany.