The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned freelance journalists against traveling to parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State group.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, ICRC President Peter Maurer said it is simply too dangerous and urged freelancers to stay away from the extremists.
“I would rather discourage you to go in those areas because from our experience as well, we know it is extremely difficult to access Islamic State group-controlled areas in a safe way at the present moment,” Maurer told reporters at the Japan National Press Club.
He was speaking less than a week after the Foreign Ministry confiscated the passport of a freelance photographer who had been planning to travel to Syria. By violating the journalist’s constitutional right to travel outside Japan, the bureaucrats said they were fulfilling their responsibility to protect Japanese nationals. The ministry warns against all travel to Syria.
Maurer declined to comment on the move.
“With regard to policies and permissions that the government exerts on travel from one place to the other, this is not the mandate of ICRC, to express myself,” he said.
Maurer stressed the difficulty of securing access to the region.
He cited the ICRC’s experience trying to get humanitarian aid into Aleppo, a city held by the extremists. Negotiations took half a year to complete.
“This is only one example to illustrate how complex and complicated and how a long-term effort it needs to enter those areas in Syria and Iraq,” Maurer said.
He also touched briefly on the two Japanese who were executed by their Islamic State captors, saying only that the Red Cross had been contacted by the family of journalist Kenji Goto.
“The contact from the Goto family was in November and it was about whether ICRC would have any knowledge of his whereabouts,” Maurer said, adding he would not go into details.
As for how journalists should prepare for trips to conflict zones, Maurer said the ICRC operates a hotline for them to call for advice.
“We are ready to . . . brief journalists on our appreciation of the security situations, the risk, the precautionary measures to take,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maurer said the organization would welcome having more Japanese staff because it plans to expand its work.
“We are very interested to have Japanese nurses, doctors, technicians, whoever . . . as we grow and increase our operations worldwide,” he said.
He also revealed that the organization plans to publish a manga in Japan about its work later this year to “offer a better explanation of how ICRC works.”
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