World

Syrian rescue force that saved Omran Daqneesh nominated for Nobel Prize

White Helmets have lost more than 130 volunteers but have saved 60,000 people

Back of Nobel Peace Prize Medal

Chris Campbell-cc

Omran Daqneesh and his family represent one of the happier outcomes of the White Helmets’ work in Syria, if the word “happy” can be used at all. But in spite of the 60,000 lives the group claims to have saved over the course of the five-year-old Syrian civil war, there are many that have been beyond their reach.

The White Helmets’ nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the viral photograph of five-year-old Omran, rescued by the group, are bringing the organization into focus.

Al Jazeera reported:

More than 130 organizations from across the world have backed the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, whose members brave bombings and sniper fire to provide medical treatment for the wounded in rebel-controlled areas, to win the prestigious international award for peace efforts.

The Syria Campaign, an international human rights group advocating for the protection of civilians in the country, has  launched an initiative calling for the White Helmets to win the prize. The winner will be announced on October 7.

Khaled Khatib, 20, a photographer for the White Helmets, told Time magazine that “Omran and his family are well now, all his family survived.”

The group pulled Omran from the rubble of a building in the rebel-held Qaterji neighborhood in eastern Aleppo Wednesday evening. Three people were killed and 10 injured in the strike, apparently carried out by Syrian government or Russian military.

Khatib said he has been with the White Helmets for three years and that seeing children like Omran is a daily occurrence.

Al Jazeera said that the 3,000-member White Helmets pledge to help anyone in need regardless of religious or political affiliations. They have helped victims in rebel-held territories, but are said to have risked their lives to retrieve the corpses of government soldiers so that they might have a proper burial. The work carries heavy risks, as Al Jazeera pointed out:

Ammar Aosalmo, a senior member of the group’s branch in Aleppo, told Al Jazeera that at least 134 members have died on duty and explained his motivation for risking his life for others by saying the group was viewed by many as their last hope.

He cited the White Helmets’ motto—taken from Islam’s holiest book, the Quran: “To save a life is to save all of humanity.”

Raed Al Saleh, head of the White Helmets, said there are many victims that the group cannot reach. “There are children trapped in rubble we cannot hear,” he said. “For them, the UN Security Council must follow through on its demand to stop the barrel bombs, by introducing a ‘no-fly zone’ if necessary.”

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.