Czech NGO in Syria mourns three humanitarian workers, but remains committed to providing aid

The Czech NGO People in Need provides aid and humanitarian assistance to people in over twenty war-ravaged and poverty-stricken countries around the world. One of its most dangerous missions is now in Syria where three of its local employees were killed and two others wounded in artillery shelling in the city of Allepo on Wednesday. Radio Prague called Petr Stefan of People in Need’s Prague office for more information on the story.

Aleppo, January 6, 2013, photo: CTKAleppo, January 6, 2013, photo: CTK “Yes, five of our colleagues were hit by random mortar fire in indiscriminate shelling in the southern parts of Aleppo city. Three people, including the team leader, died while the others suffered minor injuries. All of them were humanitarian workers, members of a team which distributed humanitarian aid to thousands of families for more than a year despite the growing difficulties in Aleppo city. “

Are you considering leaving the area – or leaving Syria altogether – in view of the heightened security risk?

“Right now we have halted our operation inside Syria. For a while we have stopped the distribution of food stuffs, but this is a temporary measure. The distribution will continue.”

Can you explain exactly how you are helping?

“We have 42 employees inside Syria right now. They are based in two offices -one is in Idlib and one is in Aleppo city –these are the people who are delivering aid to the beneficiaries. Then we have one office in Turkey, close to the border, where we have 16 people –eight of them local people and eight of them expats. The Turkey office is coordinating the work of the two offices inside Syria. Right now we are for example supporting 25 schools inside Syria with more than 10,000 pupils and 530 teachers. We are repairing classes, distributing snacks or teaching aids to children or educating teachers. We are distributing –on a daily basis – a bread portion to 20,000 people every month, so it is a huge operation inside Syria.”

Petr Štefan, photo: Czech TelevisionPetr Štefan, photo: Czech Television Where is the cut-off point at which you say – it is too risky to continue?

“It will really depend on the people in the field. Because they are the ones under fire and when they say we cannot continue to do our work then we will have to end our operation. But after this incident I am absolutely convinced that we will continue and that the people in the field will carry on with their work because they strongly believe in what they are doing – helping their own people.”