Working as an aid worker is often dangerous. Many work in conflict-ridden areas and aid workers are often targets. Last year, 270 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped. Now we need to mobilize to increase security.
In July 2014, Finnish aid workers Kaija-Liisa Martin and Seija Järvenpää were assassinated in Afghanistan. They were shot dead by two men on a motorcycle. The two Finns were about to shop and were sitting in a taxi when they were killed.
But Kaija-Liisa Martin and Seija Järvenpää were not the only aid workers killed last year. The number killed, injured or kidnapped in 2014 was over 270 people worldwide. This also does not include all the threats that aid workers are exposed to on a daily basis when performing their work.
Often conflict areas
Areas where aid workers work are often conflict-ridden regions and countries. In addition, the authorities in countries receiving aid often lack control over various warlords, insurgents and pirates.
This entails an increased risk for everyone, both international and national aid workers. The latter are doubly vulnerable, as they are often perceived as spies for the West.
Locally employed interpreters are a typical vulnerable group. The killed interpreters who worked for our troops in Afghanistan prove just that.
Terrorist organizations use aid workers
Most terrorist organizations operating in countries that receive Swedish aid use kidnappings of aid workers to increase their "revenues". This applies, for example, to al-Shabab in Somalia. They demanded $ 2 million to release aid workers Janet Muthoni Kanga, Martin Mutisya Kioko and Abdinoor Dabaso Boru.
Other terrorist organizations such as Isis, Boko Haram and the Taliban use the same methods.
Aid workers and journalists - exposed in the same way
Journalists often work in the same areas as aid workers. And in the same way, they are targets and exposed to direct violence. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 135 journalists and media representatives were killed in 2014. The Swedish journalist Nils Horner was one of them.
The UN Deputy Secretary-General demands that political and military officials respect the need for humanitarian action so that aid workers can carry out their work impartially and independently.
As a former UN worker, however, I have seen that the agreements signed by those in power in weak countries seldom correspond to the reality on the ground. Especially when the agreements are written with a large bureaucratic organization like the UN.
Suggestions for measures
Sweden is one of the leading countries in the world in development aid, and we should be proud of that. At the same time, we must increase the safety of our aid workers.
So, with what tools can we then increase security? Here are some suggestions:
- Every Swedish representative in countries where we have aid workers should, at every meeting or contact with representatives of these countries, raise the issue of increased security for our aid workers, at the top of the agenda.
- Close collaborations and written agreements with national decision-makers in countries where our employees are located.
- Identify non-central authorities to increase security for aid workers. This can be, for example, civil society, regional / local representatives of security forces, journalists or people with great influence.
- Better safety training at home in Sweden. For example, the Folke Bernadotte Academy and SIDA should expand cooperation with Säpo, the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Must) and the Swedish Journalists' Association.
- Involve new Swedes who come from regions and countries where Swedish aid workers work. Here, however, it is important to be careful with the selection. But it is clear that, for example, the release of journalists Magnus Falkehed and Niclas Hammarström in Syria was affected by the large number of Kurds in Sweden.
- Before each trip to conflict-ridden countries, we must inform the Swedish embassy or equivalent about where we will be staying. Before departure, we must also find out the telephone number that we can call in urgent cases. There they always answer.
I propose a gathering of forces for the safety of all stakeholders, including the media. Of course, the media must be free to act entirely on their own, but increasing security affects us all.