Aug. 19, 2014 – Afghan aid workers are put on the front lines by the UN and other aid organizations and are increasingly under attack while their international colleagues remain in secure compounds, the head of a local humanitarian organization told the Security Council on Tuesday.
Masood Karokhail, Director of The Liaison Office, also told the Council that humanitarian space is rapidly diminishing in the country and aid workers are seldom considered neutral from the international political and military presence in the country.
He was addressing the Council as they discussed the protection of aid workers to mark World Humanitarian Day.
Karokhail said since 2001, 895 aid workers have been attacked in Afghanistan, with 325 killed, 253 wounded and 319 kidnapped.
“Afghan aid workers account for 88 percent of those killed, 89 percent of those wounded and 89 percent of those kidnapped,” he said. “And this does not tell the whole story: many local organizations do not report attacks on their staff, the real numbers are likely to be much higher.
“Local humanitarian workers rarely receive the same security arrangements as their international colleagues,” Karokhail told the Council. “This inequality exploits the reliance of many Afghans on employment opportunities within the humanitarian sector: many have been forced to accept dangerous assignments simply to feed their families.”
“There is a need to remove the artificial hierarchy between international and local staff in protracted situations such as Afghanistan,” he said. “Rather than using funds to create a bunkerization of international aid agencies, the assistance community could increase their partnership with national organizations. This, however, should not mean transferring all the risk or responsibility to local organization, but to improving their protection.”
Karokhail said the distinction between aid workers and the political and military presence in the country is increasingly blurred. Over the past several years the UN has adopted a policy of integrating its presence in country missions. For example, for its assistance mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the deputy special representative of the mission is also the resident humanitarian coordinator.
This dual role and the policy of integrating political, military and humanitarian functions has come in for heavy criticism from many in the aid community who say it threatens the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. See here and here.
“Communities, and by association the insurgency, have great difficulty distinguishing between different organizations working on the ground,” Karokhail told the Council. “They associate aid organizations with the international presence of ISAF, UNAMA and view all of them as a legitimate target.”
“The fact that offices of many aid organizations, including the UN, increasingly resemble military bunkers with armed guards and usually Afghan Police are used for field travel, adversely impacts on the security of local staff and organizations working for them,” he added.
In his closing remarks, Karokhail said it was time to negotiate with all parties in Afghanistan.
“We all know that the future will hold more violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “The time has come to openly speak to all parties of the conflict and negotiate clear access principles.”
He said that “Afghans organizations understand that they will increasingly be asked to provide assistance where international organizations no longer can. Many stand ready to shoulder this burden. But the international community must do more to protect them, and enable them to protect themselves.
“We can no longer maintain the status quo, where local aid workers put their lives on the line in order to get the job done.”
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz