As It Happens

White Helmets headed to Canada would stay in Syria if they could, says volunteer

The White Helmets are to have been rescued from war-torn Syria over the weekend — but they'd rather home helping people, a spokesperson told As It Happens.

'We love our country,' says member of the volunteer Syrian rescue group

Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, carry a body after digging it out from under the rubble of a building following a reported airstrike in Aleppo on July 23, 2016. (Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images)

The White Helmets are grateful to the Western countries that rescued their volunteers from war-torn Syria over the weekend — but they'd rather be at home helping people, a spokesperson told As It Happens.

More than 400 people connected to the volunteer rescue organization were extracted late Saturday from the Daraa region in southwestern Syria, which is being overrun by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The volunteers and their families were rescued by Israeli soldiers as part of an international operation that involved the U.K., the U.S., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, sources told CBC News.

Canada is expected to take in as many as 250 of them. 

White Helmets member Amar Alsamo spoke to As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch about the rescue.

Here is part of that conversation.

You are in Idlib right now. You're in northern Syria. How are you, and how are things around you where you are?

The situation right now is calm. No airstrikes. But people here [are] worried about the future because the future is unknown for them.

The focus right now for the Syrian regime seems to be on Daraa, on the southern part of the country, and that is why there was this evacuation of White Helmets. How are your volunteers who got to Jordan? How are they doing there right now?

They are right now very well.

Their lives [were] in danger because they were besieged there between ISIS and the regime.

We asked our friends to help in this, especially Canada and Europe, who support us, support the White Helmets. And we asked the UN committee, refugee committee, to help in this.

The guys right now are safe in Jordan.

What is Canada's role in all of this?

To take those people to resettle them in Canada. I think more than 100 families will be resettled in Canada. 

Abir Moussa, a volunteer with the White Helmets, prepares to go on a rescue mission in Dara Oct. 23, 2016. ) (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Your organization has been subject to attacks from the Russian and Syrian governments for years, and that has people suggesting that Canada might be actually welcoming people with ties to terrorism into this country. What would you say to those people?

The regime accused us of being terrorists or being a branch of ISIS. And right now, [Assad] accuses us of being agents to Israel or to the western countries.

This is just propaganda to criminalize the White Helmets, to criminalize the witnesses. We witnessed all the crimes of the regime. We witnessed the regime using chemical weapons.

So Canadians need not worry?

Of course, no worry. Because those rescuers who were doing humanitarian work in Syria, helping the civilians, and they [risked] their lives to save lives.

The White Helmets are known for rescuing people from war-torn Aleppo. (Sultan Kitaz/Reuters)

There are still hundreds of White Helmet volunteers inside of Syria. How dangerous is the situation for them right now?

The situation is calm. But we don't know the future and what the coming days is to bring.

If we have safe passages for those guys to go to the north, we would not ask Canada or any country to take those guys and their families.

But there was no safe passages.

How long will the White Helmets keep doing their work, keep trying to do their own rescue efforts inside of Syria?

Until the end of the war.

After you've worked so hard to save the lives of people inside Syria, how does it feel to you to see your own members having to get out of the country to find safety?

We wish to find safety in Syria. We love our country. We love our homes.

We have here everything. We have here the memories. We don't want to go to any country.

The guys here face danger every day and they don't want to leave Syria.

But, you know, the situation in Daraa was so difficult and they were besieged and there was no way for them.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News.Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.