White Helmets carry a body after digging it out from under rubble following a pro-Assad airstrike on Aleppo city, July 23, 2016 (Karam al-Masri/AFP)
About 100 White Helmets rescuers and family members have been resettled in the UK.
The Home Office confirmed that the volunteers were rehoused after they were evacuated from southern Syria last July, as pro-Assad forces overran opposition areas.
The rescuers — targeted by a sustained, virulent disinformation campaign by the Russia State, the Assad regime, and their supporters — were at risk of detention and abuse as the regime military reoccupied Daraa and Quneitra Provinces after six years. A multi-national effort moved 422 volunteers and family members through Israel and Jordan.
The White Helmets have saved more than 115,000 lives since the organization was formed in 2013 to provide civil defense in opposition territory. Almost 200 have been killed, most of them by Russian and regime bombing.
Khalil, 30, said his life “had changed completely” and that he wanted to contribute to Britain, “to return the favor to the United Kingdom and its people who supported us while I was still in Syria”.
He described rescue work as his “whole life” in Syria:
Often when we were transporting an injured woman, man or child, they would start praying, kissing us and thanking us. It was such a beautiful feeling. For the people who are trapped in this conflict, the White Helmets was their safety net.
UK Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the Home Office has asked local councils to volunteer to take in the White Helmets and their families. Funding for English teaching will be provided, and access to healthcare and education for children will be ensured.
Khalil compared the situation in regime-held areas of Syria, where he continues to worry about the safety of the White Helmets who remain, and life in the UK:
After being threatened by death or arrest, I [am] now in a safe country. Here there is freedom, democracy, peace, and a multitude of different religions side-by-side.