International humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has announced it will pull out of Somalia after 22 years of providing medical aid to the war-torn North African nation, citing intolerable degrees of danger for its staff in the region.
“The closure of our activities is a direct result of extreme attacks on our staff,” said the group’s international president, Unni Karunakara to the New York Times, “in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate or condone the killing, assaulting and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.”
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MSF cited the deaths of 16 Doctors Without Borders staff since services began in 1991, and the pullout appears to have been prompted in particular by the release from prison after only three months of a Somali man who shot and killed two MSF workers in December 2011, after finding out his contract would not be extended.
“In choosing to kill, attack, and abduct humanitarian aid workers, these armed groups, and the civilian authorities who tolerate their actions, have sealed the fate of countless lives in Somalia,” said Karunakara in a press statement on MSF's website.
“We are ending our programs 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.”
MSF noted that it had to employ armed guards in Somalia, a measure it did not need to take in any other country, and lamented the fact that a minimal guarantee of safety for aid workers there simply does not exist.
The costs to Somalians of the pullout will likely be high: per MSF's own figures, their teams admitted 41,100 patients to hospital, provided over 624,000 medical consultations, and vaccinated 58,620 people, among other services.
MSF was founded in 1971 by French doctors and journalists, and currently operates in about 60 countries, based on the principles of both medical ethics and impartiality. The group was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1999.