WASHINGTON, April 19, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On the evening of April 18 noted, award-winning humanitarian Raed Saleh -- head of Syria Civil Defence (also known as "The White Helmets") -- was denied entry to the United States. Saleh was scheduled to attend InterAction's Forum -- the largest annual gathering of humanitarian, development and sustainability professionals -- to receive its 2016 Humanitarian Award.
Saleh was being recognized by InterAction -- the largest U.S. alliance of nongovernmental international organizations -- for his heroic work leading more than 2,800 intrepid search-and-rescue volunteers as head of Syria Civil Defence. These unarmed and neutral civilians have saved more than 40,000 lives in Syria.
"I am shocked and saddened to learn that Raed would be turned away by U.S. officials on the eve of being recognized by his peers in the international humanitarian community for his heroic work in Syria to help bring life-saving assistance to communities under fire in Syria," said InterAction CEO Sam Worthington.
"Raed Saleh is the reason we are involved in humanitarian work in Syria," said Nancy E. Wilson, president and CEO of Relief International. "If he can lead thousands of volunteers -- all of them civilians -- to rescue those injured by barrel bombs and forced from their homes by violence, the least we can do is ensure that medical attention, food, education and other vital services are available. Raed is truly an inspiration." Relief International nominated Saleh for InterAction's Humanitarian Award.
"InterAction has continually warned of the consequences of policies that prevent humanitarian professionals from freely traveling, as any other modern global professional must to be effective," Worthington added. "If the U.S. government won't allow Raed to be honored in person by the humanitarian community in Washington then InterAction leaders will travel to Raed, on the border of Syria, to ensure his work is appropriately and personally acknowledged."
Saleh had previously traveled to the United States in June 2015, to give an address at the UN Security Council.
More About Saleh: Raed Saleh, aged 32, leads more than 2,800 intrepid search-and-rescue volunteers as head of Syria Civil Defence. Known as "The White Helmets," these unarmed and neutral civilians have saved more than 40,000 lives in Syria.
Before the Syrian civil war, Raed was a businessman who sold electrical equipment. After the start of the popular protests in March 2011, Raed began organizing peaceful demonstrations in his home town Jisr Ashughour. Just weeks later, the Syrian Army entered his town, forcing him to go into hiding in Turkey. He returned to Syria in 2012, after parts of Idlib were liberated from the Syrian army. There he worked in the humanitarian field helping refugees and displaced persons.
In June 2013, he attended a civil defense training course in Idlib. Tackling the difficult exercises with grace and leadership, Raed was elected by his teammates to be their representative. Over the following 12 months, he created 20 more teams in Idlib, and was appointed as head of the Syria Civil Defence. Raed is married with two children, a 10-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son.
More About the Award: InterAction's Humanitarian Award recognizes an individual or individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in support of NGOs and the people they serve in the developing world.
InterAction is the largest U.S. alliance of nongovernmental international organizations, with more than 180 members. Our members operate in every developing country, working with local communities to overcome poverty and suffering by helping to improve their quality of life. Visit www.interaction.org.
About Relief International
Relief International (RI) is a leading humanitarian non-profit agency committed to achieving relief from poverty, building resilience and promoting the dignity and well-being of the world's most vulnerable populations. By partnering with people in the communities where we work, RI bridges the gap between immediate relief and long-term community development. RI is non-political and non-sectarian in our mission. More can be found at www.ri.org.