Posted by Sadie from ? (188.8.131.52) on Thursday, May 01, 2003 at 3:44PM :
Iraq: A two-minute sign of life
"We are alive, my son! Don't worry, thanks be to God, we are all fine, Alhamdullilah!" Amina, a 73-year-old Iraqi woman dressed in an elegant chador and with a delicate tattoo on her forehead, ended her call on an ICRC mobile satellite telephone, deeply moved. "Oh, thank you for allowing me to contact my dear relative. This call was worth the long wait in the heat. It feels so good to tell the people we love that we are safe!"
Like Amina, several hundred residents of Basra queue outside a joint ICRC/Iraqi Red Crescent Society office every day in the hope of talking to their loved ones abroad. The ICRC gives them the opportunity to use one of seven satellite phones installed in a booth on the roof of the building. The administrative procedures mean that people have to wait to place a call, but they also ensure that everyone gets the chance. The most popular destinations for the more than 600 callers per day are Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Jordan, England, Denmark and Australia. Users have exactly two minutes to tell their family abroad that they are alive - two minutes that for many callers are worth more than all the riches in the world!
With the help of 37 Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers, the office in Basra also collects around 150 Red Cross messages every day sent by local Iraqis to relatives throughout the world. The messages are forwarded to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which then deliver them to their final destinations. In addition, the ICRC has already distributed more than 1,000 messages written by Iraqi prisoners of war held by Coalition forces to their families in Basra and elsewhere. These examples illustrate yet again the importance of being able to restore contact with one's family, which for many victims of war is just as great as that of being supplied with food or medicine.
In 2002, together with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC collected and distributed 978,724 Red Cross messages all over the world, thereby helping family members separated by conflicts and disturbances to restore and maintain contact with one another.
A dangerous game with explosive remnants of war
Believe it or not, it's true. In the streets of Basra, children can be seen playing football among explosive remnants of war - grenades, stockpiles of ammunition and even armoured fighting vehicles - abandoned by soldiers of the former regime. On 27 April three children died playing with a mortar shell. "The stockpiles of ammunition exceed everything I have seen so far. It's an appalling situation", said Johan Sohlberg, the ICRC's regional mine-action adviser. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Hassan is riding his bicycle among hundreds of mortar shells and other munitions, shouting with a large smile: "If you want, we can help you collect them now!"
In cooperation with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, the ICRC has already identified more than 30 sites where there are explosive remnants of war. These are in industrial areas but also in playgrounds, schools, civilian houses under construction, and among garbage piling up along the roads.
The ICRC conveys all information concerning explosive remnants of war to the explosive ordnance disposal unit of the British Army occupying the city, and asks it to take action urgently to remove the threat. The ICRC and the Iraqi Red Crescent also inform the civilian population about the danger by talking to people living near the sites and distributing leaflets, and through the media. The danger remains, however, and the deadly remnants of war continue to claim victims long after the fighting is over.
Further information: Tamara Al-Rifai, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++4179 244 6414
Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++4179 217 32 26
Nada Doumani, ICRC Baghdad, tel. ++873 761 845 610
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