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UNHCR staff to receive first aid training from Red Cross Red Crescent

News Stories, 22 October 2002

© UNHCR/R.Wilkinson
UNHCR staff learning first aid at a Workshop on Emergency Management course in Denmark.

GENEVA, October 22 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) signed an agreement Monday that will give UNHCR staff working in field operations around the world and their families the opportunity to receive training in first aid by the Red Cross Red Crescent. This new partnership will likely boost the confidence of UNHCR staff working in emergency situations.

"The Red Cross Red Crescent first aid course is the standard worldwide for first aid training, and it is this field of excellence that we are pleased to tap into for our staff," said Dr Michel Baduraux, a medical officer at UNHCR's headquarters in Geneva.

First aid skills can be lifesaving, particularly in the difficult conditions under which UNHCR staff often work, with high risks of accident, aggression, epidemic and psychological trauma. The Red Cross Red Crescent is present in regions where the refugee agency works, and can offer expertise in first aid training and equipment.

For a number of years now, UNHCR medical staff have offered first aid training to staff working at headquarters and those participating in UNHCR's Workshop on Emergency Management, which trains emergency teams for rapid deployment to crisis zones.

The new Memorandum of Understanding with the IFRC will greatly increase the number of UNHCR staff with access to first aid training, reaching out to remote field locations and making training available to all staff from local drivers to field staff and heads of office. Training will be adapted to the specific needs of humanitarian workers and the particular risks and conditions in each field location.

"This is a great initiative for us to collaborate with the Federation to conduct first aid training, which is very essential for our organisation," noted Kiyoshi Murakami, UNHCR's Head of Career and Staff Services.

First aid is a cost effective, safe and simple way to save lives in the kind of health or life threatening situations in which UNHCR staff often find themselves.

One of the most common dangers faced by UNHCR and other humanitarian staff working in field locations and refugee emergencies is vehicle accidents, which can occur in crowded towns or on remote roads far from any medical facilities. In such instances, the training will prepare drivers and other staff to respond until medical help can be reached. Other potential risks range from common household accidents to snakebites, disease, or even violent injuries such as gunshots.

"Our staff face health risks from the environment in which we live and work, but also from the nature of our humanitarian work and the security situations we face on a daily basis," explained UNHCR's Baduraux.

The IFRC and the UN refugee agency will develop guidelines together on how first aid training can be implemented on the ground. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will provide first aid training courses to UNHCR staff members and dependants living with them.

"The good news is that this is not just a piece of paper but that co-operation has begun in several countries," said Dr Álvaro Bermejo, head of the IFRC's Health Department in Geneva. "This will give it further impetus."

The model for such co-operation is already in place. Last year, the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan organised a first aid refresher course for 26 UNHCR staff, in anticipation of an influx of Afghan refugees. "We actually saved a man's life just because we knew how to put him in the right position and open his airways," said UNHCR staff member Antonio Kamill. "After the man began to breathe again, we delivered him to the nearest hospital."

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