International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer in Syria. Unidentified armed men took six ICRC staff and one Red Crescent volunteer last Sunday while on their way back from a medical outreach in Idlib, Damascus. Photo by: ICRC / Ibrahim Malla / CC BY-NC-ND

*Just in: Four of the aid workers, including the volunteer for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been released, as confirmed by ICRC Head of Operations for the Middle East Robert Mardini.

Humanitarian efforts have taken another hit inside Syria, with the abduction of seven aid workers over the weekend.

Unidentified gunmen took six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and one volunteer of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on Sunday. The aid workers were on their way back to Damascus, after delivering vital medical supplies and assessing the medical situation in the Idlib province, a largely rebel-controlled area.

ICRC’s clearly marked vehicles were also reportedly missing.

Violence against aid workers inside Syria — including kidnapping — is not uncommon; while unacceptable, this is part of the risks aid workers face in conflict situations. Since the conflict erupted in 2011, 11 U.N. employees and 22 staff members and volunteers of SARC have died while on duty.

Khaled Erksoussi, SARC director of operations, previously told Devex that misconceptions regarding the organization’s neutrality and impartiality had contributed to these deaths. Some volunteers meanwhile were caught in crossfires between opposition forces and the government.

In an interview with Devex last month, an aid official on the ground underscored the danger aid groups find themselves in Syria. Health workers, particularly doctors and nurses not affiliated with the regime, and health facilities are especially vulnerable to attacks.

Many were hoping a reverse in the situation following a statement in September by the president of the U.N. Security Council which all the members of the body unanimously endorsed, calling for an expansion of humanitarian access — including cross-borders — removal of bureaucratic impediments for humanitarians, and the respect by all parties of international humanitarian law. Circumstances on the ground, though, indicate the pronouncement lacks teeth.

ICRC has so far kept mum on the identity of the victims. It said operations will continue inside the country but noted the implications the incidents have on its work.

“Both the ICRC and the SARC work tirelessly to provide impartial humanitarian assistance for those most in need across Syria on both sides of the front lines, and incidents such as these potentially undermine our capacity to assist those who need us most,” a statement from the relief group reads.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.