White Helmets

As the Syrian Civil war takes its toll on millions of Syrians, the White Helmets have emerged as the unsung heroes of the conflict.

As the Syrian Civil war takes its toll on millions of Syrians, the White Helmets have emerged as the unsung heroes of the conflict. Since early 2013, the volunteer civil defense organization has saved countless lives in the heavily bombarded rebel-held strongholds of the country.

The White Helmets emerged around two years after the start of the Syrian Civil war as a volunteer rescue group in civilian neighbourhoods which were targeted by the brutal Assad regime. They aren’t even rebel fighters or professional rescue workers, but are former bakers, students, engineers, and cab drivers among many others. They number at around 2,850 members who operate in 114 different locations all over Syria, and have saved 56,000 lives and counting. With the start of the Russian intervention in Syria, matters only became worse for those living in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

The inhumane military tactic of besiegement has been used by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in many Syrian cities, most notably Aleppo because it’s rebel-controlled. This means that no food, water, or aid supplies can enter the besieged area, and worst of all, no one can enter or exit either. This drastically increases the number of civilian victims of air attacks by Russian and SAA forces. These men and women literally put their lives on the line for their people, and 190 members have become martyrs. Aside from rescuing others, that is not all that these heroes do. They deliver public services to 7 million Syrians all across the country. Fixing electric cables, providing children (the biggest victims of the war unfortunately) with safety tips, and securing buildings before airstrikes are just a day in the life of a White Helmet volunteer. For areas outside of regime control, they serve as the hope of their fellow civilians.

Rescuers in Action

White Helmet rescuers face very dangerous situations and are quick to jump into action following airstrikes in civilian areas. They’ve pulled thousands of men, women, and children from the rubble and show no signs of giving up.

The SAA and Russian air force have been heavily criticized for using cluster bombs which release smaller bombs that spread over many areas and are more effective in killing as many people as possible. They’re illegal under international law, but neither Syria nor Russia have signed those treaties. It is sickening to think that the Assad regime and Russia believe that anyone in rebel-controlled territory is a terrorist and deserves to be murdered in such horrific ways. What makes their tasks even more amazing is the fact that they face “double tap” attacks. These are when the SAA will drop a bomb in one area, and then drop another once they see the White Helmets rushing to pull survivors from the rubble. There is a very short time window between these two bomb drops, and are at a great risk of serious injury or even death. However, the White Helmets have been the reason that many of these Syrians live to see another day.

UNinvolved in Peace

There have been demands by the White Helmets urging the UN Security Council (UNSC) to act on their promises to save civilians by force if they face any more chlorine gas attacks after a resolution was passed that banned them. That resolution was passed in 2015, and the UN has still not done anything since. Another failure of the UNSC in this horrific war is their inaction on barrel bombs. Like chlorine gas, UNSC passed a resolution in 2014 banning the use of barrel bombs and indiscriminate weapons in warfare, and promised to act if the SAA didn’t comply with these rules. The UNSC didn’t act when the SAA and its allies continued using barrel bombs, and angered even more people when they didn’t follow through with their promise regarding chlorine gas. Once again, fellow Syrians like the White Helmets are left saving themselves.

Miracle Baby

In the summer of 2013, a White Helmet worker by the name of Khaled Harrah became famous saving a 10- day old baby boy beneath the rubble of his home in Aleppo. The baby, Mahmud Ibildi was trapped under what remained of his house for 11 hours, and wouldn’t have been alive if it weren’t for Harrah and his fellow coworkers. They were very close to giving up when they heard crying from under the rubble. They tried as hard as they could with very simple tools and the rescue went long into the night. They had to be very careful removing the concrete slabs as it could evidently kill the baby, and at one point during the night, they thought that he had died due to Mahmud’s cease of crying. However, they emerged victorious and exclaimed “God is great” as they pulled the very lucky baby from the rubble and handed him to his family. The SAA claims that they only target terrorists. Were baby Mahmud and the thousands of murdered children terrorists Assad?

In a cruel and relentless world, the only people that a strive to help Syrian civilians have been the White Helmets. They have been there and will continue to be due to the false promoters of peace leaving destitute to fend for themselves.

Umair Ghantiwala is studying at the University of Toronto and plans on majoring in Political Science and International Relations. He currently lives in Toronto, Ontario. Umair plans on attending law school...

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