IRIN, February 22, 2009

AFGHANISTAN: “It’s too risky to be an aid worker”

In the past we were somehow immune from attacks and could safely access communities controlled by different warring parties

Over the past year, aid workers have increasingly been attacked and harassed in Afghanistan, particularly in the volatile southern provinces. Dozens of people involved in relief work were kidnapped and/or killed in 2008 and large consignments of aid items were pillaged by insurgents and criminal groups, according to the UN.

"By targeting and killing aid workers, armed opposition groups are committing war crimes. They are also preventing the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance, thereby worsening the already miserable conditions facing tens of thousands of people who are already suffering from hunger and cold, particularly women and children cut off from health care and education," said Sam Zarifi.
Amnesty International, Feb. 18, 2009

Consequently, humanitarian space has diminished considerably, aid workers say.

Ahmad Wali (not his real name) works for a local NGO in Logar Province, about 60 km south of Kabul and where four employees of the International Rescue Committee were killed by unidentified armed men in August 2008. Wali spoke to IRIN about the risks he faces.

“The situation has changed a lot since I started work as a relief worker in the 1990s. In the past we were somehow immune from attacks and could safely access communities controlled by different warring parties. People respected us and supported our work.

“But now I constantly fear being killed or kidnapped. I keep my work top secret and try my best not to show any affiliation with NGOs because this would jeopardise my life. I don’t carry my employment identity card, never use an official vehicle and try to act as an ordinary local.

“I know it won’t last this way forever and sooner or later the bad guys will know about me. I am currently looking into two options: A, to quit my job and open a shop here; and B, to ask my seniors for a transfer to Kabul.

“It’s beyond my understanding why aid workers are being attacked and threatened to quit their jobs. We only try to ease human suffering and have nothing to do with politics, power and military activities.

“If the situation doesn’t improve, no one will dare to work for foreign organisations. People like me may lose their jobs, but the real suffering will be endured by communities in need who will have nobody to assist them.”

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