Extra Dutch support for Syria’s rescue workers

The Netherlands has announced it will support a project aimed at reducing the number of casualties of air strikes in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Dutch contribution of €1 million will fund both a new siren system to alert the public and efforts to improve bomb shelter facilities.

The project is being run by the Syrian organisation the White Helmets, which conducts rescue operations after air strikes and provides information to the city’s residents. Foreign minister Bert Koenders announced the Dutch contribution on Monday evening at an event in The Hague that featured a screening of the Netflix documentary The White Helmets.

The minister also announced that the Netherlands would provide a further €3 million for the White Helmets’ day-to-day activities. This amount is on top of the €4.5 million the Netherlands has already given the organisation in recent years.

‘The courageous, life-saving work that these volunteers perform under horrendous conditions deserves our ongoing support,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘The heroes of Aleppo offer hope in a place where despair reigns.’ To date the White Helmets have rescued more than 73,000 people from the rubble after air strikes.

During the event the foreign minister took part in a panel discussion with a representative of the White Helmets and a Syrian journalist. Mr Koenders emphasised that those guilty of atrocities in Syria must be held to account and brought to justice. This is vital for the country’s future, he argued. ‘There can be no peace without justice. But first the fighting must stop and a political solution must be found.’

If the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa is liberated, Mr Koenders believes that the UN could play a role in filling the governance vacuum. ‘We shouldn’t leave it to the Kurds, and certainly not to the current Syrian government, which by its actions has lost any right to have a say in the country,’ he said. ‘The UN can help stabilise Raqqa. It’s a role that’s perfectly suited to the organisation.’