Don’t shoot at the ambulance!
Humanitarians are neither enemies to be killed, nor merchandise to be sold.
And yet, the recent attack against the house of United Nations’ staff in Kabul shows that aid workers in general, and the UN in particular, are clearly considered to be parties to the conflict. In Somalia, the war between the transition government and opposition groups has resulted in a huge increase in the price of militias. Those who do not have access to the spoils of piratry are looking for other sources of revenue. As a result, the hostage industry has made venturing into the field extremely dangerous. In Darfur, hostage taking is no doubt carried out more for political ends than for financial gain, and the recent events in Chad and CAR have not yet been analysed in sufficient detail.
Different approaches exist to these situations. The bunker approach, with armed escorts, should be the last resort. Strategies are being developed to improve acceptance of humanitarians by local people and parties to conflicts or to limit the attention that the aid sector attracts. In certain contexts, it is now quite common for humanitarians to use a “remote control” approach.
Unfortunately, violence continues to be aimed at those who have chosen to bring assistance and protection to people in distress. It has become increasingly extreme and remains utterly unacceptable. Certain victims come out at the other end broken by the experience, others come out in body bags. We have friends among the victims and our thoughts are with them, their families and their colleagues… We are left full of anger, because it is a combination of political mistakes, ideological folly and a predatory strategy which has cut access to people in distress, and this access is central to the work we do.