Violence against aid workers: why does it happen?

August 19, 2020

Aside from incidents involving armed groups stealing relief supplies and sexual assault, there have been a surge in attacks against health personnel.

What is the source of conflict that create so much violence against humanitarian workers? Would it be mistrust? Misinformation and fear of diseases?

On this World Humanitarian Day, we want to honour workers who provide support for people in need and shed a light on the issues that led workers to get killed or injured while performing their work.

 

Official numbers

WHO reported 483 attacks to aid workers in 2019 and 1,009 attacks against healthcare workers and facilities, resulting in 199 deaths and 628 injuries.

That comprises 125 aid workers who were killed, 234 wounded,
and 124 kidnapped. High incident countries were Syria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan,
and Central African Republic.

MSF’s Health Care Under Fire project found that issues fell into five categories:

  1. requests for preferential treatment and violence at the moment of intake.
  2.  violence linked to perception of unsatisfactory treatment.
  3. looting and destruction of health centres for economic gain or other reasons.
  4. attacks on health centres as part of the battlefield.
  5. persecution of patients or civilians seeking sanctuary in health centres.

There have also been harrasment cases by some communities' resistance to treatment (in the case of vaccination and safe burials, for instance). Communication issues add to the risk, when important information gets lost in translation and raise resentment in the communities.

 

Good practices

It may not always be an easy task, but engaging - not only consulting - with respected community leaders is still an important first step. Transparency is also key for acceptance.

Finally, security management needs to be integrated to accountability systems, collecting community feedback to gauge levels of risks, frustration and threats.