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Red Cross nurse Kerry Page working in South Sudan. Photo: Australian Red Cross

Red Cross, Red Crescent talk aid worker safety

The safety of aid workers operating in war zones and conflict areas has been spotlighted at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva.

Dr Phoebe Wynn-Pope, director of international humanitarian law and movement relations with the Australian Red Cross, said: “We’re tackling big humanitarian issues of the day. We will work with governments to strengthen international humanitarian law, find ways to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict, and provide greater protections for civilians [and] medical and humanitarian workers.

“At least 3000 aid workers – including many skilled local volunteers – have been killed, injured or kidnapped in the past 15 years, everywhere from Syria to South Sudan and Colombia. This is a major concern for the movement and we are committed to doing all we can to address this problem through our Global Health Care in Danger project."

The Health Care in Danger initiative – with support from groups including governments, armed forces, humanitarian agencies, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – has put together a body of recommendations to improve the protection of healthcare services in armed conflicts and other emergencies.

As a partner in the initiative, the Australian Red Cross is calling on states, weapon bearers, international and national humanitarian agencies and health organisations to give urgent attention to the recommendations.

Among other prompts, the initiative urges states to make every effort to investigate and condemn attacks against healthcare personnel, facilities and medical transports that violate international law, including international humanitarian law.

It also urges states to co-operate with health and humanitarian organisations to ensure that health personnel are specially trained to know, apply and uphold their legal and ethical duties.

Australian Red Cross aid worker and nurse Kerry Page has recently returned to Australia after continuing her work leading health and medical operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross in South Sudan. The work came about due to renewed internal conflict in the country. Page's team also responds to conflict-related sexual violence, physical rehabilitation and health in places of detention.

Page said aid workers could rely on their organisation to a certain degree to be aware of what's going on and provide security for their work but added: “There is always something that can go wrong and one needs to be aware themselves … of what's happening in the area, and take some responsibility for protection, of yourself as well as the other people you're working with.”

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