Dutch support for Syrian rescue workers

Foreign minister Bert Koenders is providing €4 million over the next two years to support Syria’s White Helmets, a group of volunteer rescue workers. ‘These heroic people risk life and limb to pull victims from the rubble following airstrikes,’ he said on Thursday. ‘They are a beacon of light in a very dark and complex situation, a shining example of human good, and they deserve our support.’

The minister said that support for the White Helmets was vital for the civilian population. ‘Syrian civilians find themselves in a terrible situation,’ he said. ‘They suffer daily bombardments and live in constant fear. So it’s essential for good assistance to be provided in Syria itself.’

Mr Koenders is concerned at the growing number of civilian targets being hit. ‘The airstrikes by the Syrian regime and the recent airstrikes by the Russians are hitting more and more civilian targets, like hospitals, markets and residential areas,’ he said. ‘We will continue to call the Syrian regime and Russia to account for these unnecessary and unacceptable attacks.’

In December 2014 the Netherlands contributed €1 million to the White Helmets. ‘The project is a great success,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘In recent years these unarmed volunteers have rescued over 40,000 people.’ During a visit to the White Helmets coordination centre in Istanbul at the end of last year, the minister expressed his admiration for the volunteers’ courage. ‘Sadly, 92 volunteers have already lost their lives in their efforts to save as many people as possible,’ he added. ‘Their dedication is admirable.’

As well as rescuing people in the wake of airstrikes, the White Helmets provide public information and training. ‘Our new contribution will allow more lives to be saved,’ said Mr Koenders, ‘as the volunteers will be better trained and better equipped.’ It will also be possible to train more women, who can then provide medical training to others, in addition to helping with the rescue work. ‘These women ensure that more and more targeted assistance is provided to Syrian society as a whole.’

As well as supporting the White Helmets, the Netherlands is helping the Syrian population in other ways. It provides aid to refugees, support for child education projects, police training, food packages and clothing for moderate armed opposition groups.