Who are the White Helmets?

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Syria Civil Defense (SCD; Arabic: الدفاع المدني السوري‎‎), also known as the White Helmets, is a volunteer civil defense non-governmental organization that operates in rebel-controlled Syria during the Syrian Civil War. Mayday Rescue is a foundation registered in the Netherlands that supports SCD, primarily financed by western governments.


Early training of volunteers was initiated in early 2013 by British security consultant James Le Mesurier, primarily as a response to supposed indiscriminate bombardment of civilian communities in rebel-held areas by the Syrian Arab Air Force. Training and courses were provided by the Turkish AKUT Search and Rescue Association and the consultancy Analysis, Research and Knowledge (ARK); courses include trauma care, command and control and crisis management. SCD was formally founded in its current form on 25 October 2014.

In September 2014, the SCD delegation to the United Nations General Assembly argued that United States airstrikes should target Syrian government targets as well as ISIS and Al-Qaeda-linked groups. In May 2015 the head of SCD Raed Saleh and the head of Mayday Rescue James Le Mesurier met with some United Nations Security Council and European Union diplomats to argue for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over parts of Syria. The case for a no-fly zone was also made at a United Nations General Assembly side meeting in September 2015.

SCD has grown to be an organization of over 2,850 volunteers operating from 114 local civil defense centers across 8 provincial directorates (Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama, Homs, Damascus, Damascus Countryside, and Daraa). In October 2014, these self-organised teams came together and voted to form one national organisation: Syria Civil Defense. As of October 2016, the SCD has rescued over 60,000 people, since they began to keep count in 2014, from the effects of the civil war. According to The Economist, approximately one in six SCD have been killed or badly wounded, “many by “double-tap” Russian and Syrian airstrikes on the same site as they search for bodies.” The SCD was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

On 14 December 2016, as the Syrian Armed Forces were recapturing eastern Aleppo, Raed Saleh requested safe passage of SCD operatives to rebel controlled countryside around Aleppo. SCD also joined with other organisations to accuse Russian forces of war crimes in eastern Aleppo, jointly submitting a report to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

The White Helmets do all they can to help better a word that is suffering.

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