MSF closes operations in Somalia over ‘extreme attacks’

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has closed all medical programmes in Somalia following a series of attacks and abduction of aid workers.

The humanitarian organisation, which has worked in the country since the start of civil war in the country in 1991, cited “extreme attacks” by armed groups and it accused civilian leaders of condoning, the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.

MSF’s international president Unni Karunakara said the leaders’ actions and tolerance of the environment effectively cut off hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians from humanitarian aid.

“In some cases, the same actors—particularly but not exclusively in south central Somalia—with whom MSF must negotiate minimum guarantees to respect its medical humanitarian mission, have played a role in the abuses against MSF staff, either through direct involvement or tacit approval,” he said while making the announcement.

The most recent incidents include the brutal killing of two MSF staff in Mogadishu in December 2011 and the subsequent early release of the convicted killer; and the violent abduction of two staff in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya that ended only last month after a 21-month captivity in south central Somalia.

“These two incidents are just the latest in a series of extreme abuses. Fourteen other MSF staff members have been killed, and the organisation has experienced dozens of attacks on its staff, ambulances, and medical facilities since 1991,” the MSF boss said in his statement.

Besides offering humanitarian assistance over its 22-year history in Somalia, MSF has negotiated with armed actors and authorities.

MSF will be closing its medical programmes across Somalia, including in the capital Mogadishu and the suburbs of Afgooyeand Daynille, as well as in Balad, Dinsor, Galkayo, Jilib, Jowhar, Kismayo, Marere, and Burao.

More than 1,500 staff provided a range of services, including free basic healthcare, malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, epidemic response, immunisation campaigns, water, and relief supplies.

In 2012 alone, MSF teams provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,100 patients to hospitals, cared for 30,090 malnourished children, vaccinated 58,620 people, and delivered 7,300 babies.

“Ultimately, civilians in Somalia will pay the highest cost,” said Dr Karunakara. “Much of the Somali population has never known the country without war or famine. Already receiving far less assistance than is needed, the armed groups’ targeting of humanitarian aid and civilians leaders’ tolerance of these abuses has effectively taken away what little access to medical care is available to the Somali people.”

He added that beyond the killings, abductions, and abuses against its staff operating in Somalia, MSF had to take the exceptional measure of utilising armed guards, which it does not do in any other country.

Also, they were forced to tolerate extreme limits on its ability to independently assess and respond to the needs of the population.

“We are ending our programmes in Somalia because the situation in the country has created an untenable imbalance between the risks and compromises our staff must make, and our ability to provide assistance to the Somali people,” Dr Karunakara said.

Source: Nationmedia

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