NEW YORK/PARIS/NAIROBI – February 28, 2013 – Efforts underway at the United Nations to integrate humanitarian assistance into the international military campaign against opponents of Somalia’s government will further threaten the safe delivery of independent and impartial aid to Somalis struggling to survive ongoing war, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.
The United Nations Security Council is currently deliberating the future structure of the UN’s mission in Somalia. Under discussion is the possible inclusion of humanitarian assistance within the broader political and military agenda for Somalia. Such an approach, in a country where the ability to provide relief is already severely compromised, could generate distrust of aid groups.
“As many Somalis continue to struggle to obtain the basic necessities for survival, such as food, health care, and protection from violence, humanitarian assistance must remain a priority and it must remain completely independent of any political agenda,” said Jerome Oberreit, MSF Secretary General. “The humanitarian aid system must not be co-opted as an implementing partner of counter-insurgency or stabilization efforts in Somalia.”
Ensuring the safety of patients and medical staff remains a major challenge. Aid must therefore remain independent and impartial so that humanitarian organizations can try to negotiate access to populations in need with all parties to the conflict and mitigate security risks as much as possible. Attempts to further politicize humanitarian aid will put patients and aid workers in even greater danger, MSF said.
“As we’ve seen previously in Somalia, and in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Angola, when military stabilization or peacekeeping efforts integrate humanitarian aid as a tool to advance political and security objectives, aid actors, including health workers, are invariably delegitimized and prevented from reaching populations trapped in conflict,” said Oberreit. “In extreme cases, aid has even been denied to populations to serve political interests of stabilization efforts. Humanitarian assistance must be driven purely by the actual needs of a population, and not predicated upon any other agenda.”
Large segments of the Somali population throughout the country require basic assistance, many in active conflict areas and in zones controlled by armed groups, such as in south-central Somalia, underscoring the need for independent and impartial humanitarian aid. Access to food and adequate medical care is severely limited. More than 730,000 Somalis have sought refuge in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Overall levels of assistance in Dadaab, Kenya, home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, itself remain insufficient. Calls by Kenya for the return of refugees are premature as long as the security situation remains perilous in Somalia.
More than one hundred Somalis cross each day into Ethiopia to escape the deprivation, stating food shortages and insecurity as the main drivers for fleeing. In a recent survey of MSF patients, more than half (424 out of 820) reported being displaced within Somalia or to Liben, Ethiopia. More than 187,000 Somali refugees are living in Liben, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Direct or feared violence were the main reasons for displacement (46%) followed by food shortages due to drought and limited access to assistance (32%).
“I have been displaced more than 10 times in my life,” a 25-year-old woman from Lower Juba region told MSF. “My husband died in an attack, and two of my children died because I was not able to give them food. I try to stay strong but this situation that our county has been facing for too long is killing us.”
MSF has already had to curtail its activities in Somalia due to security risks. In October 2011, two MSF aid workers, Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut, were abducted in the Dadaab refugee camp and taken to Somalia, where MSF believes they are still being held. Following the abduction and until the safe release of the two aid workers, MSF has limited its operations in Somalia to strictly life-saving emergency work.
MSF has worked continuously in Somalia since 1991, and continues to provide lifesaving medical care to hundreds of thousands of Somalis in ten regions of the country, as well as in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Over 1,400 staff, supported by approximately 100 people in Nairobi, provide a range of services, including free primary healthcare, malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, response to epidemics like cholera or measles, immunization campaigns, water and relief supplies. During the first half of 2012, MSF treated nearly 30,000 severely malnourished children and vaccinated 75,000 against infectious diseases. MSF teams also assisted in over 7,300 deliveries and provided close to half a million medical consultations within its health facilities.