Red Cross and its efforts to assist humanity often means that the organization faces serious international challenges. Despite their record of helping any nation or group during times of need, the staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) staff often find themselves in danger.
Just days ago, five Red Cross staff members were kidnapped in an Afghan western province. According to Red Cross spokesman Marek Resich, the five were traveling on an aid mission on a rural road in the western province of Herat. That region of Afghanistan is ruled by local armed groups who often kidnap people and hold them for ransom.
The Red Cross employs over 12,000 persons who perform heroic humanitarian missions in various parts of the world. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the Red Cross is non-political, and most of the funding comes from private and corporate donations.
The Red Cross prides itself on being independent, neutral and impartial. The ICRC mandate is to deliver aid and assistance to all, regardless of political alliances, religion, or ethnic concerns. In most cases, this policy helps to ensure the safety of Red Cross workers who, by being impartial, generally earn the trust and respect needed to allow the Red Cross to function in the midst of conflict and violence.
In Afghanistan, the levels of education are relatively low and many villagers believe that outsiders are infidels who must be killed for the sake of Islam. This constitutes an ever-present threat to those who bring aid to the region.
The Red Cross workers were abducted by gunman who may have been driven by a fanatical devotion to Islam, though robbery was likely another strong motive. In the most recent kidnapping, gunmen took the Red Cross workers as hostages. They also confiscated the sheep that staffers were delivering to poverty stricken families in the region.
In another case of violence against Red Cross workers, militants opened fire on two Red Cross staffers from Finland. Both were killed while providing care to local Afghan villagers. Sometimes the ICRC works to win release of hostages taken in war, for religious reasons, or political concerns. From time to time, the Red Cross must also negotiate the release of their people from hostage situations.
In working around the world, the Red Cross faces constant international challenges. Often the issues are complicated even in areas where the population is better educated and the culture more sophisticated. Such an example is the current conundrum over a convoy of humanitarian aid from Russia. The aid is intended for people who have been caught between both sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict over control of the eastern provinces of Ukraine.
After several days of not knowing where the convoy would settle next, finally the Russian side is allowing Ukrainian border guards to inspect the cargo. In principle, both Ukraine and Russia have agreed that the aid must be delivered by the Red Cross. However, the Russians have neglected to agree to Red Cross stipulations guaranteeing that no armed escorts will accompany the distribution of the aid.
Western journalists at the scene report that many of the vehicles are not fully loaded. The convoy had stopped overnight at a Russian military base in Voronezh, leaving some observers to wonder if military cargo originally intended to resupply pro-Russian fighters in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions had been offloaded due to demands by the Red Cross and the Ukrainian government that the Red Cross be given full control over distribution of the aid.
Officials in Kiev feared that the exercise may have been a cover to insert reinforcements in areas where the government has encircled separatist fighters. The Red Cross has insisted on each truck only having one driver, whereas the convoy now carries a crew of three. Also suspicious is that each crew member seems to have a military background, according to journalists who have interviewed members of the Russian crew.
The “ICRC never accepts military escorts” according to Laurent Corbaz, who is the director of operations for Red Cross efforts in Europe and Central Asia. The Red Cross does use negotiated routes, passing only in areas where their safety has been negotiated. There will be a need for further humanitarian assistance in such conflicts in the future and that means the Red Cross will continue to face international challenges.
By Jim Hanemaayer