Amid the darkness of the protracted conflict in Syria, one group has provided some light on the ground, working to protect civilians wherever and whenever possible. Since the start of the conflict, Syria Civil Defense volunteers have saved more than 115,000 lives, often at great risk to their own.
Made up of around 3,400 volunteers – firefighters, teachers, engineers, tailors and medics – the heroic group rush to the scene of bombings and violence, to pull civilians from the rubble and provide them with medical assistance. Often first to the scene, they have even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
The group are supported financially by the UK, who fund the ambulances, training and equipment that enables the group to carry on their life-saving work.
You may also know Syria Civil Defense as the ‘White Helmets’ – a name adopted by many on the ground and in the media, due to the outfits they wear when working on the ground to protect and save civilians.
Unfortunately, their bravery and positive impact isn’t recognised by everyone. To Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the White Helmets are troublesome because through their work they expose some of the most heinous crimes committed by the regime against civilians.
This has left the White Helmets vulnerable to attack, both physically and through the media inside and outside of Syria. The group even have faced misinformation campaigns against them, questioning their motives and attempting to undermine their work.
Despite the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the White Helmets, they are now being forced leave Syria. As the regime and its Russian allies make sweeping gains in Southern Syria, the group were given a bullying warning from Assad – to leave or ‘be liquidated’.
Following this, White Helmet volunteers and their families found themselves trapped in an area of south-western Syria near the border with the Golan Heights, with regime forces advancing. They called for aid and rescue, and thankfully a joint diplomatic effort between the UK and international partners has helped a group of more than 400 White Helmets volunteers and their families leave Syria safely.
“We have completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation and their families,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that there was an “immediate threat to their lives”.
Testament to their commitment and bravery, many of the White Helmet volunteers are keen to be redeployed in the north of Syria, where they would be able to carry on working on the ground in advance of Assad’s forces turning their attention there.
Click here to learn more about the White Helmets and their work
Featured image credit: White Helmets