Ambulances in Syria

© ICRC/ Ibrahim Malla

Red Cross, Red Crescent or Red Crystal? The Movement, the Committee or the Federation? We are such a large and complex network of organisations you’d be forgiven for getting confused.

So who is working in Syria?

Currently, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are working in Syria.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the Syrian equivalent of the British Red Cross. It is the country’s National Society. Most countries around the world have a National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. Each Society has a responsibility to support the public authorities by helping vulnerable people within its own borders, and to work in conjunction with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to protect and support those in crisis worldwide.

The ICRC works to protect and assist victims of armed conflict and other emergencies, and co-ordinates the work of National Societies in these situations. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, and it is mandated by states as a guardian of international humanitarian law.

The Danish Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are supporting operations in Syria, and have representatives in the country.

And why does the Syrian National Society use a crescent instead of a cross?

The red cross emblem is an inversion of the Swiss flag, which shows a white cross on a red background. This recognises the historic connection between Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention of 1864.

But while the red cross emblem has no intentional religious meaning, the symbol reminded soldiers from the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) of the crusaders of the Middle Ages and so in 1876 they began using a red crescent instead.

Now, each country can choose whether to use a red cross, a red crescent or a red crystal as their emblem. None of the emblems have a religious significance.

Oh, it’s not a religious thing?

Boy picks up aid in Syria

© ICRC/ Ibrahim Malla

No part of the Movement is political or religious. Being completely neutral means that we can reach and offer impartial help to people in need whoever and wherever they are. In Syria, it has enabled the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC to help people affected by the violence, even when many other agencies have been unable or unwilling to work in the country.

National Societies are auxiliaries to the government in the humanitarian field, but their operations are not affected by politics or religion. This enables them to work effectively in the country while retaining functional neutrality.

We often cross front-lines in times of war to help conflict victims and the ICRC visits people who have been detained on both sides. We can only do this life-saving work if we are understood to be a completely neutral, independent network of organisations. Put simply, our neutrality saves lives.

For this reason, the British Red Cross is helping support a public awareness campaign in Syria, to ensure the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s work is understood and respected – this includes education to highlight the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s neutrality, and the Movement’s fundamental principles.

Fine, but why do I keep reading about ‘the Movement’?

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the world’s largest independent humanitarian network. It is made up of three parts:

  • the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
  • the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • 188 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world.

Because different parts of the Movement often work together – and because many of the organisations have long names – we sometimes use ‘the Movement’ to refer to all of them. That way, it’s easier for people to read our website quickly and find out what is happening.

When we talk about ‘the Movement’ working in Syria, we are usually referring to the the ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s operations. However, this term could include any part of the Movement which is present in the country – for instance, the Danish Red Cross or the Federation.

Alright. And where does the British Red Cross come into things?

Man collects aid in Syria

© ICRC/ Ibrahim Malla

The British Red Cross is not working directly in Syria at the moment, but it is supporting the work of the Movement in the country.

Since 2004, the British Red Cross has been working to help the Syrian Arab Red Crescent modernise its disaster management operations. In the past year, we have given over £900,000 – including some funds raised through our Libya & Region Appeal and Disaster Fund – to support the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s operations in Syria.

In response to the worsening situation, we launched our Syria Crisis Appeal on 1 March 2012. This enables people in the UK to donate and help the Syrian Arab Red Crescent continue to provide aid including food parcels, first aid, and support to healthcare facilities.

Donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal