The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing to the Australian Government to help create a global push for greater protection of medical teams in war zones and areas of humanitarian crisis.
Director of operations Pierre Krahenbuhl is this week in Canberra meeting with government ministers and departments, as well as other political leaders across the parties.
His strongest message is that medical workers are increasingly being victimised as easy targets in some of the world’s worst trouble spots.
Sometimes the consequences are tragic.
He lists Syria as one of the greatest humanitarian crises currently being played out and says a divided international community over the conflict should not prevent the protection of medical workers.
“In human terms – I don’t like to rank suffering – but the situation there it is as catastrophic as anywhere in the world right now,” Mr Krahenbuhl said.
“It is more so because there isn’t any end in sight and it’s a very fragmented internal situation and also a situation where the international community is very divided.
“But one phenomenon preoccupying us in the Syrian context is the very grave attacks against medical institutions and threats against medical personnel.”
Mr Krahenbuhl related a recent incident in which three doctors were killed after being falsely accused of being informants while treating hospital patients.
He said the barbaric incident has resulted in doctors and nurses starting to leave the country.
“That theme is something we feel very much needs to be highlighted, not only in Syria but there are those situations in Afghanistan and different parts of the world,” he said.
“It is clear that not enough has been done politically. We have asked Australia, as we have asked other governments around the world, that this deserves full attention.
“If consensus can’t be reached on any other issue in international crises it should be reached over this – that respect for medical installations, for health care, for health personnel and for the injuredshould be integrated.”
The ICRC is a highly influential non-governmental organisation and Australia is one of its biggest financial donors.
Mr Krahenbuhl said he expected the strong relationship between his organization and Australia would continue regardless of the outcome of this year’s federal election.