After over two decades of caring for millions of Somalians, the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders said it would close its 11 programs across the country, including in the capital city Mogadishu. The Paris-based group - often dubbed MSF, for its French name Medecins sans Frontieres - called the decision "painful," but necessary due to the extreme dangers facing its staff.
Gains in governance and peacekeeping, although met with international praise when the first parliament in over two decades took office in 2012, have not improved the working conditions for MSF personnel.
MSF has had 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 response to the needs of the population," the organization's president, Dr. Unni Karunakara, told reporters in Nairobi on Wednesday.
The humanitarian organization deploys doctors to serve the world's neediest populations who have been affected by wars, epidemics and natural disasters. Last year alone, MSF provided more than 624,000 medical consultations and admitted roughly 41,000 patients to hospitals in Somalia.
MSF reaches its limit
The decision followed recent deaths and kidnappings of MSF personnel. Last month, two Spanish MSF employees were released after being abducted from a Kenyan refugee camp close to the Somali border nearly two years ago.
MSF's president said the 2011 killing of two staff members in Mogadishu and "the subsequent early release of the convicted killer" had heavily influenced its decision to leave the east African country.
At least 14 other personnel have been killed since operations began in Somalia in the early 1990s, according to the Associated Press news agency.
"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.
"Respect for humanitarian principles, always fragile in conflict zones, no longer exists in Somalia today."
Clan warfare prompted by a coup left Somalia in a state of anarchy from roughly 1991 to 2012. The rise of Islamist groups within the last decade led to a power struggle with long-time warlords and the eventual take over of the southern region by the al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group Al-Shabab. African peacekeepers helped drive the extremist fighters from their strongholds and in 2012 paved the way for a new parliament to take office for the first time in over 20 years.
kms/dr (AP, AFP)