Sahel aid workers flee over Mali fears
By Bakari Guèye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 01/08/12
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo announced Saturday (July 28th) that his country would repatriate aid workers in southern Algeria.
"Northern Mali has become a terrorist platform and there are credible indications of a significant increase in insecurity in the area," the minister said.
More than a dozen Spanish nationals, along with several French, Italian and Peruvian citizens, "had been conveyed to a safe place" , Spanish authorities said.
Three European hostages – two Spanish and one Italian national – were freed on July 18th in northern Mali following a 15 million euro ransom payment and the release of at least one Islamist jailed in Mauritania. Al-Qaeda splinter group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa claimed credit for the attack.
"The abduction threats are preventing Western humanitarian workers from visiting certain areas of Mali and endangering aid work," according to Ba Mamadou, a professor of politics. "For a few months now, a number of international humanitarian organisations have put a stop to all travel by their Western employees in the Gao region in the north-east of Mali."
"Some international NGOs have shown discretion, using local unmarked vehicles in order to continue their operations in the region safely," the professor added. "It is in Gao that the situation is most worrying at the moment, but alerts have also been published for other regions in Mali."
He went on to say: "Over recent months, a number of Western governments have advised their nationals not to travel to north-eastern Mali due to the threats being made by terrorist groups."
The United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) sounded the alarm a few months ago. In a report, it stated that "the security situation has deteriorated over recent years, and the number of abductions of foreigners and attacks against the national security forces has increased considerably".
According to a humanitarian official based in Gao who wished to remain anonymous, the threats have limited aid workers' ability to evaluate the needs of citizens affected by drought.
"We are adjusting our activities, giving greater responsibility to local personnel and handing over more to the Malian NGOs, since they are currently in less danger," the aid worker added.
Cyprien Fabre, head of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO) in West Africa, said the terrorist kidnappings were also impacting his organisation.
"Our strength lies in our presence on the ground and our ability to see the situation for ourselves and evaluate the quality and impact of a project being financed by the European Union," he explained.
Meanwhile, Hervé Ludovic de Lys, the head of the regional office for West Africa and the centre run by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHO), said: "The access problems mean that we have to work harder to increase the capabilities of local humanitarian workers to provide humanitarian aid in accordance with international standards."
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