The aid group Doctors Without Borders says it is pulling out of Somalia after 22 years there because of attacks on its staff. The Somalian government said the move would embolden al-Qaida-linked militants.
In a scathing indictment of Somalia's leaders, Doctors Without Borders said the decision to close all operations in the country was the result of extreme attacks on its staff. In a press release it referred to an environment "where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers."
Doctors Without Borders, commonly known by its French acronym MSF, has seen 16 staff members killed in Somalia since 1991, including two killed in 2011 in Mogadishu. MSF on Wednesday (14.08.2013) pointed to those two deaths and "the subsequent early release of the convicted killer" as contributing to its decision.
Two Spanish employees released
The group said the pull-out will cut off hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians from humanitarian aid. "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 Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF's international president.
Unni Karunakara is critical of civilian authorities that tolerate armed groups
MSF said more 1,500 staff provided a range of services, including free primary health care, malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, epidemic response, immunisation campaigns, water, and relief supplies.
Hussein Awes, a correspondent for Deutsche Welle's Kiswahili service in the Somalian capital Mogadishu, said "people would not be getting the service they had had before."
The pull-out comes about a month after the release of two Spanish MSF employees who were abducted in the Kenyan Dadaab refugee camp near the border and held in Somalia for almost two years.
"Exactly what al-Shabab and al-Qaida wanted"
MSF's decision has been criticised by the Somalian authorities. Abdirahman Omar Osman, a spokesman for the Somalian presidency, warned that the move by the charity could embolden the al-Qaida linked militants. "The decision from MSF is exactly what al-Shabaab and al-Qaida wanted, so that they can terrorize people further. We kindly ask MSF to review its decision and to be with the people," said Osman.
A refugee baby being treated at an MSF hospital outside the Kenyan Dadaab camp near the Somali border
This nation in the Horn of Africa has been seen as making strides in security and governance. Somalia fell into anarchy in 1991 and for much of the last decade Mogadishu was ruled by warlords and al-Qaida-aligned militants. Those militants from al-Shabab were forced out of the capital in 2011 and a new government was voted into place. The security gains brought new measures of freedom to the capital. But violence persists. Some two dozen local journalists have been killed since the start of 2012.
More than 7,000 babies delivered
Humanitarian needs in Somalia created unparalleled levels of risk for MSF, much of it born by Somali staff, the aid group said, forcing it to "take the exceptional measure of utilizing armed guards, which it does not do in any other country, and to tolerate extreme limits on its ability to independently assess and respond to the needs of the population."
Al-Shabab still controls much of the country's south. The group allows very few outside aid groups to operate in its territory. MSF will close programs in Mogadishu and 10 other locations. The group said it provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,000 patients to hospitals, cared for more than 30,000 malnourished children and delivered more than 7,000 babies in 2012 alone.
Dr. Abiy Tamrat, is the president of Doctors Without Borders, Switzerland, which has been involved in projects in Somalia. Asked by Deutsche Welle's Africalink radio program what would happen to the projects MSF was leaving behind, he said they would try to arrange proper hand-overs with local authorities and other actors whenever possible. "The only problem here is that some of our projects, located in various rural parts of the country, are the only projects that provide medical care and there is no way of providing hand-over. They will be closed leaving the population of Somalia without any kind of assistance," he said.