(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

IRC reviews option to resume activities

WFP trucks have become under increasing attacks in parts of Afghanistan.
Ebadi/WFP

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says it is still "reviewing and analysing" the security situation before deciding whether to resume activities in Afghanistan.

The IRC, an international NGO, suspended operations after four of its staff (three internationals and one national) were assassinated by armed men in Logar Province on 13 August.

The attack - for which Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility - was widely condemned.

"Local communities are anxious to see our programmes resume," Ciaran Donnelly, IRC's country director, told IRIN.

"We want to serve the Afghan people and we hope to resume some programmes in the near future," Donnelly said.

The IRC has been in Afghanistan for more than 20 years providing humanitarian and developmental assistance.

Unprecedented risks

Afghan and international aid organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN have frequently voiced concerns about shrinking humanitarian operating space because of insurgency-related violence.

At least 24 aid workers (Afghans and internationals) have been killed in security incidents this year, according to the Afghanistan NGOs Safety Office (ANSO).

Figures compiled by ANSO from 25 of the 34 provinces revealed 117 security incidents involving NGOs and aid workers from 1 January to 31 August 2008.

An international aid worker, who preferred anonymity, said: "Aid workers are suffering unprecedented attacks ... Never before were they attacked so widely, repeatedly and deliberately".

In the most recent incident, three Afghans working for the UN were killed in a suicide attack on their convoy in the Spin Boldak District, in southern Kandahar Province, on 14 September, the UN said.

The convoy was carrying doctors to assess polio vaccination in Spin Boldak, which borders Pakistan.

"These unacceptable and cowardly actions show the brutal face of those opposing progress towards peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan," the UN Secretary-General said in a statement.

Reliance on communities

"We don't use armed escorts, we don't use armed vehicles and bullet-proof vests; we rely on protection from communities," said Donnelly.

But civilians have also been the victim of attacks and violence across the nation and therefore communities are deemed unable to protect aid workers from belligerent armed groups.

The IRC echoed calls made earlier by the ICRC and other aid agencies: "We call on all warring parties to respect International Humanitarian Law and restrain from attacks on civilian people and aid workers".

Misperceptions

The IRC said aid workers had come under attack mostly due to "misperceptions".

"Some people think aid organisations are supporting western military forces," said Donnelly. "This perception is incorrect. Aid agencies are impartial actors and don't take sides in conflict."

Others such as Oxfam International say the increased involvement of military forces in humanitarian and development activities had caused a "blurring of lines" and fuelled misperceptions.

Whatever the reason for the increasing attacks on aid workers, it has become too risky for humanitarians and development workers to assist vulnerable Afghans, experts say.

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