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Lebanon News

Communications channels key to ICRC task

File - Syrian Mustafa, 7, from Homs, recovers from his injuries at the Governmental Hospital in the northern city of Tripoli, Saturday, April 21, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: The International Committee of the Red Cross is in constant dialogue with all parties involved in the Syrian conflict, said Fabrizzio Carboni, who leads the group’s delegation in Lebanon.

The ICRC is working to ensure the efficient transfer of patients wounded in Syria to a network of hospitals and clinics throughout Lebanon, he added.

Carboni explained that those injured in the Syrian war, whom he called weapon-wounded, are brought to the Lebanese border by a network of “medical networks or private citizens” who contact the ICRC.

Subsequently, the Lebanese Red Cross picks up the wounded patients at the border, and transports them to hospitals for proper care.

“We don’t cross the border. Never, ever,” Carboni said, referring to Lebanese Red Cross and ICRC transport operations.

Maintaining contact with all parties involved in the Syrian war is key to their operations, he says.

“Our work is just humanitarian. If we want to do our work, we have to talk to everybody. ... We have no limits to who we’re going to talk with,” Carboni responded when asked whether the organization was in contact with battalions fighting the Syrian regime.

“We have contacts, networks on the other side [of the border],” he explained. “We have colleagues who work on this on a permanent basis. They do only this, [establish] networks and contacts, to make sure we have the right information of the humanitarian situation and security.”

For the ICRC’s strictly humanitarian mission, the politics of wounded patients are irrelevant.

“I don’t want to know what they want to fight, I don’t want to know their political agenda, I even know that I [may be] talking to people who, if they saw me, I wouldn’t have a nice time with them,” he said. “Once they’re wounded, I don’t want to know what they’ve done. That’s not my job, it’s the job of the authorities.”

“And the fact that we’re accepted is because of this impartiality,” Carboni added.

The Lebanese authorities, he insisted, are constantly updated about all ICRC operations in Lebanon.

“Obviously this is done in total and full transparency with the authorities They know who the Lebanese Red Cross transports and where. There are no under-the-radar operations,” he said.

Upholding this transparency and dialogue is of particular importance during battles like Yabroud, just a few kilometers from the Lebanese border, where wounded patients are being transferred on a near daily basis.

“Today, it’s a bit more tense,” Carboni said of the situation near Arsal, where Syrian warplanes are regularly striking the hills surrounding the town.

“We’re in the process of talking with all the people who can facilitate the access to hospitals,” he told The Daily Star. “When you have an event like Yabroud, when you have car bombs, it makes everything more complicated.”

On the whole, however, Carboni saluted the willingness of Lebanon to let Red Cross ambulances transport the wounded freely throughout the country, despite the decidedly fraught political situation.

“Today, we haven’t faced a situation where we, on a structural basis, have been denied access [to a region],” he said.

Carboni, however, says that the ICRC can only do so much.

“The ICRC ... and humanitarians don’t solve political problems, we just buy time for the ones who have to solve it,” he said.

“It’s getting very complicated on the other side of the border to buy time now, but that’s what we’re doing,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 18, 2014, on page 4.

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