Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World Humanitarian Day: threat of being kidnapped in Afghanistan

Aid workers in Afghanistan have to keep their employment secret. Many tell friends or relatives that they work for private business instead of working to provide food. They do this because kidnapping is a constant threat, they fear putting themselves or their loved ones in danger if their true occupation is known.

For World Humanitarian Day, this commentary from the Times Online explains some of the threat in Afghanistan, the writer did not reveal their identity.

I’ve never programmed the numbers of my international colleagues into my mobile phone because I don’t want someone to find them there if I’m searched at a roadblock. I leave my work phone behind when I travel to the south to visit relatives and friends.

None of this is unusual. Many of my Afghan colleagues at WFP do the same things, and some take even more precautions against the risks we face just coming to work every day.

There are people here who believe that working with non-Muslims is forbidden. Some are willing to use violence to enforce this belief, and may not differentiate between someone working for a foreign military force and someone working for a humanitarian agency.

The gap between rich and poor is also an issue. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on Earth, and some people assume that those of us working for international agencies are wealthy — which could make us and our relatives targets for kidnappers seeking ransom.

There was a time, not so long ago, when a UN job was something people would be eager to show off. A position like mine would bring prestige and social status.

But for me and for so many of my colleagues, our motivation is something much deeper, and it inspires us to face the risks that now accompany the work we do.

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