Humanitarians: the "unsung heroes" who risk their lives to help others

This photo of Syrian Arab Red Crescent first responders was taken in Raqqa. ©SARC – Raqqa

This photo of Syrian Arab Red Crescent first responders was taken in Raqqa. ©SARC – Raqqa

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day – a day dedicated to remembering and recognizing aid workers who have lost their lives in the service of others. 

In a statement to mark the occasion, US Secretary of State John Kerry described humanitarians as the “unsung heroes, who, despite the risks, work to save lives on the front lines of conflict and help victims of natural disasters pick up the pieces and rebuild their communities.”

He added, “One of the great privileges of serving as Secretary of State is getting to see firsthand the unfathomable commitment of men and women who give so much of themselves to victims of tragedy.” 

Indeed, each day and across the globe, humanitarians put their lives on the line in order to help those in need. Just this week, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement learned the sad news that yet another first responder was killed in Syria recently. 

Hassan Hammoud Al Hilal, who had served as a first responder in the Raqqa branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent for the past three years, died in the line of duty on July 26. This latest incident reflects the complex and dangerous environment that volunteers and aid workers face in Syria today.

In total, 38 Syrian Arab Red Crescent and seven Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers and staff have lost their lives since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. Most were killed or captured while carrying out humanitarian activities. All were clearly displaying the red crescent emblem, which is protected under international humanitarian law (IHL).

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement once again called on all parties to the conflict in Syria – and conflicts everywhere – to meet their obligations under IHL and respect Red Crescent and Red Cross aid workers by granting them safe and unrestricted access to people suffering the effects of the conflict.

In his statement, Secretary Kerry also spoke of the sacrifices of aid workers striving to alleviate suffering and uphold human dignity in Syria, as well as other places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and South Sudan.

“In each case, humanitarians – armed with courage and a powerful moral compass – are answering the cries of those in dire need and our common call to conscience. They are providing food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care where no one else can or will,” he said. “They are working to reunite children separated from their parents and families torn apart by chaos and conflict. They are helping victims of sexual violence to heal and helping the world to speak with a unified voice that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and intimidation is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Here at the ICRC in Washington, we couldn’t agree more and we take this opportunity to remember those, like Hassan, who have passed away, and to pay tribute to our colleagues in the field and fellow humanitarians working in dangerous and demanding situations around the world in an effort to bring a measure of humanity to the horrors of war. 

For more information on our activities in Syria,

read our latest operational update.