This Saturday morning, civilians should have left Mariupol, the large port on the Sea of Azov surrounded by Russian and pro-Russian forces and under total blockade. These populations were to reach the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye, 220 km to the northwest via an evacuation corridor open for a few hours. But the operation was postponed because the ceasefire which was to facilitate it was not respected. During their discussions on Thursday, Russia and Ukraine agreed to organize “humanitarian corridors” to evacuate civilians from conflict zones. These corridors would also be used to transport medical equipment and food to areas isolated by the fighting, said a member of the Ukrainian delegation. Interview with Frédéric Joli, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Marianne: What is the challenge of “humanitarian corridors”?
Frederic Joli: A humanitarian corridor is a passage that allows people to leave the place where they are, because they are exposed to risks, have been terrorized, injured, or bunkered for days and are starting to lack all. It can also allow in the other direction to bring in humanitarian means, obviously assistance and then perhaps also the personnel that go with it.
“It is very important that the parties to the conflict talk to each other on a humanitarian issue. We must welcome any initiative by the belligerents that could relieve some of the suffering of the Ukrainian population.”
A corridor is generally described by a point A and a point B, but to get to point A, that is to say to enter the corridor, you have to leave the place where you are, perhaps cross a city, go one kilometer, two kilometers, where there may be hostilities. Beyond the corridor itself, one must imagine something resembling a truce so that the civilian population who are trapped can get out.
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Even if the implementation is difficult, it is very important that the parties to the conflict talk to each other on a humanitarian issue. We must welcome any initiative by the belligerents which could relieve part of the suffering of the Ukrainian population. Then, it is necessary to be extremely pragmatic about all the difficulties that the implementation of corridors can represent: these are not necessarily adapted to real needs. Without opposing them, the humanitarian deployment speaks louder than the corridor that goes from point A to point B. But everything must be put on the table, everything must be considered.
What relief could these humanitarian corridors provide given the current situation?
After the week that we have just experienced, the needs become colossal and are more and more important. There are a lot of internally displaced people, emergencies, hospitals are starting to suffer from shortages. The ICRC is bringing in tons of insulin for diabetics. The question of the chronically ill is important. We have to deal with very different emergencies. At the moment, we at the ICRC are concentrating on the medical side, because the situation is very bad in Mariupol. We are also providing emergency aid to two hospitals in Kiev. We are also trying to meet the pressing needs of the civilian population, particularly in terms of water. In the Donbass, we continue to deliver water for thousands of people, whether in Luhansk or Donetsk.
What are the difficulties in implementing a humanitarian corridor and its limits?
It is a logistical challenge and above all the parties to the conflict must make a firm commitment to guarantee security and continuity during all the procedures, both for the evacuation of people and the entry of humanitarian means. Needs and situation assessments are needed, as well as prioritizations. For example, what happens if the corridor passes 5 km from the needs? It is necessary to be able to ensure the logistics of the last kilometer between the end of the corridor and the place where the needs are. It is hard to imagine a corridor if hostilities are still active. In order for very vulnerable people to try to get out and for humanitarian workers whose only protection is their flag, their identification and their objective, to be able to move about in relative safety, a truce is needed. Beyond the corridor that allows channeling, humanitarian aid must be able to deploy where there are the most pressing needs.
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It would be good news if these corridors were to materialize, but they must not make us forget the question of the deployment of humanitarian aid in accordance with humanitarian law and the necessary obligation to continue to protect people who, for reason X, do not leave. . Those who stay, because they are sick, disabled or do not want to leave, remain civilians in combat zones. They are not part of the conflict, so they must be spared, so the fighters must distinguish those who are fighting from those who are not fighting. The idea of allowing people to leave must not weaken the treaty responsibility of international humanitarian law, which obliges parties, for example, to distinguish between civilians and combatants. It should be remembered, however, that there have been very few corridors actually implemented in the history of the conflicts. It is a measure that is often brought to the table and is very complicated to implement.