“I feel deeply upset by the killing of another humanitarian colleague,” says Suze van Meegen, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Protection and Advocacy Adviser in Yemen.
Van Meegen is from Australia and has worked in Yemen for NRC since June 2017.
“Our lives aren’t worth more or less than the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed in the course of this war, but attacks on aid workers invariably compound the suffering of vulnerable people who cannot receive the assistance they need if the people who deliver it aren’t kept safe,” she says.
“I feel desperately sad that a family is grieving, and angry that millions of people in urgent need of aid will be prevented from receiving it quickly if we can’t guarantee the safety of our staff.”
According to the Aid Worker Security Report 2017, 158 major attacks against aid operations occurred in 2016. In these attacks, 101 aid workers were killed, 98 wounded and 89 kidnapped. The number of attacks and victims increased only slightly from 2015.
For the second consecutive year, South Sudan was the most violent context for aid workers. It was followed by Afghanistan, Syria, DR Congo, Somalia and Yemen.
“We are all aware of the inherent risks that come with working in Yemen but we take them because we believe in the principles of humanitarianism,” says van Meegen. “Yemeni women, men and children have a right to receive assistance and protection, and providing it in a country affected by war comes with serious personal risks.”
Working in the world’s biggest crisis
Yemen has been described as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. In December 2017, violence escalated in the country dramatically, and after almost three years of conflict, more than 22 million people need humanitarian assistance.
“As international staff in Yemen, we see, hear and know about abhorrent violence, sometimes we get caught in it, but most often we have protections that Yemeni people don’t,” says van Meegen.
NRC has more than 110 Yemeni staff who are exposed to risks every day, some in the course of their work to deliver aid and some in the course of lives lived in a warzone.
“It is sometimes hard for international humanitarian staff to be far from home, working in some fairly unforgiving places, away from friends and family, but it’s a whole lot harder for Yemeni humanitarians who face greater risks without any guarantee that family and friends will be safe.”
Following the attack on ICRC Saturday, NRC together six other international NGO’s issued a statement saying an attack on a humanitarian worker is also an attack on the rights of people affected by conflict to receive assistance and protection.