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Jordan to allow 800 Syrian civil defense 'White Helmets' and families transit to 3 western countries

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

Street art about refugees in Jordan

Jordan confirmed Saturday that it would allow 800 Syrians transit via Jordan to three western countries. Of particular interest is that these are specified as members of the "These Syrian citizens who were working in the civil defense fled the areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after the attack by the Syrian army in those areas. The spokesman added that these Syrian citizens will remain in a specific area closed during the passage through Jordan, which was committed by the three Western countries, the ceiling of three months."

The statement notes that Jordan has hosted 1.3 million refugees. The passage via Jordan was organized by the United Nations. The Jordan statement comes a day after the AP had a report about "final" negotiations towards this end. The AP reported on Thursday that US officials had been “finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian Civil Defense workers.”

Meanwhile BILD reported more details. According to a Bild report published Saturday night by Paul Ronzheimer, Giorgos Moutafis and Julian Ropcke around "800 Syrians were transported across the Syrian-Israel border....From there on to Jordan,” the article says. “They are members and families of the famous White Helmets.” Bild says that those evacuated will continue on to the UK, Canada and Germany.  According to Ronzheimer the evacuation was “still ongoing” after midnight between Saturday and Sunday. He tweeted that the UN was involved, although the full details remain largely unknown.

- Updates -

On July 21 Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, said ‘‘The White Helmets are courageous volunteers and first responders who risk their lives to help their fellow Syrians who have been targeted by senseless violence...Canada, working in close partnership with the United Kingdom and Germany, has been leading an international effort to ensure the safety of White Helmets and their families....Canada will continue to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people affected by this conflict in Syria.’’

Heather Nauert, Spokesperson of the US State Department wrote on July 22. "The United States welcomes the safe evacuation of more than 400 members of the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets, and their families from southwest Syria. We are glad that these ‎brave volunteers, who have saved thousands of lives, are now out of harm’s way. The United States and our international partners asked the United Nations to take the central role in this critical humanitarian operation. In response, the UN organized entry into Jordan for these members of the White Helmets and their families, who are fleeing violence in southwest Syria. The White Helmets have consistently been targeted by the Assad regime. Members of the group, more than half of which are children, were allowed entry into Jordan on a transit basis, until UNHCR completes procedures for their resettlement in third countries. We deeply appreciate Israel’s role in facilitating the transit of the White Helmets and their family members. We commend Jordan’s generosity in supporting their processing by UNHCR and the commitment of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany to provide the White Helmets and their families with permanent homes."

Foreign Secretary of the UK Jeremy Hunt tweeted on July 22 "Fantastic news that we - UK and friends - have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families - thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is atleast one ray of hope."

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: ""Several days ago President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of 'white helmets' from Syria. These are people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger. Therefore, I approved their passage through Israel to additional countries, as an important humanitarian gesture. Concurrently, we will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran's attempts to establish a military presence there."

German foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has also confirmed the resettlement of several White Helmets and their families in Germany, roughly 50 refugees.

UNHCR says it is "supporting their temporary stay in anticipation of their onward relocation to third countries”. “White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection,” Britain’s foreign secretary and international development secretary said in a joint statement on Sunday. On FridayUNHCR appealed for safe passage for some 140,000 Syrians displaced by fighting in Daraa and Quneitra provinces."

Damascus condemned the evacuation as a "criminal operation" undertaken by "Israel and its tools."

Russia critiqued the evacuation as well. "Flight of workers of the White Helmets nongovernmental organization from Syria with foreign assistance shows graphically whose orders they fulfilled and whose money they existed on, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an official commentary on Monday."

The White Helmets released a statement on July 23 saying 98 male and female White Helmets and their families "have arrived in Jordan through the occupied Syrian Golan Heights after being forced to flee their homes in southern Syria."

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