UK Hints at Boosting Aid to Syria's White Helmets After US Freezes Funding
The Nobel Peace Prize-nominated group has saved an estimated 60,000 people.
The Syrian volunteer group known as the White Helmets was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 and again in 2017, and was the subject of an Oscar-winning 2017 documentary.
Its nearly 4,000 search and rescue volunteers work in the rebel-held areas where Syria’s official emergency services don’t go, administering emergency first aid, driving ambulances, pulling civilians from homes hit by airstrikes, and much more.
But the group, which claims to have saved over 100,000 lives in the 8-year conflict, is now facing funding cuts after US President Trump froze a $200 million aid package to Syria. The package includes the money that previously made up about a third of the overall funding to the White Helmets.
Now, UK prime minister Theresa May has hinted that Britain is looking at increasing its funding to the White Helmets — officially known as Syria Civil Defence — in order to close the gap.
During Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Matthew Pennycook, the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, described the group’s life-saving work “despite the ever-present threat of death from both Syrian and Russian airstrikes and in the face of smears and disinformation.”
“The rescue workers of the White Helmets have never stopped saving the lives of their fellow Syrians,” he said.
“Last week, the Trump administration froze their US funding,” he added. “With thousands of civilian lives at risk, will the prime minister step up, pledge the government to plug the funding shortfall that now exists and ensure that these heroic rescue workers can continue their work?”
May replied that the UK “recognise[s] the very important and valuable work that the While Helmets are doing… in horrendously difficult conditions.”
“They are incredibly brave to be continuing that work,” she continued. “We do support them, we will continue to support them and… the international development secretary will be looking at the level of support in the future.”
On 31 March, the US Government froze $200m for Syria which included some indirect support for the White Helmets as well as rebuilding and recovery funds for others. Freeze is not specific to the WH’s and we hope all Syria funds will resume soon. https://t.co/3uN9XNNZXf.— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) May 4, 2018
While the US has given the group about $33 million in funding since 2013, an official from the State Department told CNN last week that “we are actively reviewing our current Syria assistance programmes at the President’s request, including US support for the White Helmets.”
“The US jointly supports the White Helmets with other donors and we expect their operations to continue as a result of additional multilateral donations,” they added. “The president has been clear that partners and allies should assume a larger role in stabilising Syria.”
In April, world leaders gathered in Brussels seeking to raise $6 billion in aid for the millions of poeple facing starvation, airstrikes, chemical attacks, and displacement in Syria. The UK announced a commitment to spend at least £450 million this year to help alleviate the extreme suffering — and a further £300 million in 2019.
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