Aid workers protest attacks amid murders and death threats

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An aid worker in Mogadishu has received death threats a day after the head of an orphanage was killed by unidentified gunmen. Meanwhile the UN has expressed concern over continuing attacks on humanitarian workers in the war-torn country.

“I received a telephone call last night telling me I was the next to die,” the aid worker, who declined to be named for security reasons, said on 8 August.

Despite the threat, the aid worker vowed to continue with a weeklong protest organised by civil society members and internally displaced people (IDPs) against increasing attacks on humanitarian workers.

“We will not give up, we will not let the insecurity prevent us from helping Somali people who are in urgent need of aid,” the aid worker said.

The head and founder of the orphanage, Abdikadir Yusuf Kariye, was shot dead on 6 August at the centre, which is home to hundreds of IDPs besides 370 orphans.

A Mogadishu journalist, who requested anonymity, said Kariye’s murder could have been linked to his involvement in the protests.

“Perhaps the killers wanted the protests to end,” the journalist said. “It seems there is an anti-aid worker campaign going on in the Afgoye area; it looks like the attackers want the aid workers expelled from the region for insecurity to reign.”

The journalist added that the area in which Kariye was killed was dominated by Islamists, making it difficult for government officials to access the area to conduct an investigation.

“Kariye was one of those who organised the protests over the increase in attacks on aid workers; he may have become a target as a result,” the journalist said.

Civilian death toll

On 7 August, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, said he was alarmed by the continuing abuses and civilian casualties resulting from the conflict in Somalia, and the challenges faced by humanitarian workers in addressing the rapidly growing needs of millions of vulnerable people.

“All parties to this conflict have an obligation under international law to protect civilians and to refrain from indiscriminate attacks,” he said in a statement. “Yet it seems at every turn, the death toll of ordinary Somalis is growing. Far too many of them are women, children or aid workers who have no part in this conflict.”

On 2 August, at least 20 people died and dozens more were injured in a roadside explosion in Mogadishu. Most of the dead were women taking part in a food-for-work programme.

Holmes said: “The death of tens of civilians in bomb and mortar attacks in Mogadishu in the past week, the current massive displacement of civilians due to fighting in Beletweyne and the latest killing of an aid worker underline the toll conflict is taking on civilian populations and the relief operation.”

In Beletweyne, 300km north of the capital, in the central Hiiraan region, fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents has displaced at least 70,000 civilians, Holmes added.

“All this is occurring in the context of a severely deteriorating humanitarian situation in which aid workers, themselves subject to attacks in increasing numbers, are more and more challenged to reach people with the assistance they require,” Holmes said.

According to UN estimates, 21 aid-related workers have been killed in Somalia since the beginning of 2008.

“The humanitarian situation has deteriorated steadily in the 18 months that I have been Emergency Relief Coordinator,” Holmes said, “and has now reached unprecedented desperate levels, even in the context of Somalia over the last 18 years.”

He urged all parties to the conflict to allow unhindered humanitarian access wherever assistance was required and to respect the neutrality and safety of humanitarian workers.

The UN estimates that 2.6 million people in Somalia need aid, a 40 percent increase in the number of vulnerable people since January. Some 3.5 million Somalis, or half the total population, could require assistance by the end of the year, according to the UN.


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