Charity pulls out of Somalia after 22 years because of violence and abuse

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 15 August 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5150
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1BMJ

The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, has announced that it has closed all its programmes in Somalia because of attacks on its staff and the unsafe environment in which it has been operating.

The charity, which has worked in Somalia since 1991, said that its withdrawal from the country would leave hundreds of thousands of Somalians without the little medical care that MSF was able to provide. The charity provided a range of services in the country, including free primary healthcare, malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, epidemic response, immunisation campaigns, water, and relief supplies.

MSF said that armed groups and civilian leaders in Somalia increasingly supported, tolerated, or condoned the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers. In some cases, the same people with whom MSF had to negotiate minimum guarantees to allow it to operate had played a role in abusing MSF staff.

During 22 years of operating in Somalia, MSF said that it took risks and accepted levels of compromise that it would not normally tolerate, including negotiating with armed leaders in order to deliver humanitarian aid. For the first and only time in any country, the charity had to use armed guards to work in Somalia and tolerated extreme limits on its ability to independently assess and respond to the needs of the population.

Altogether 16 MSF staff have been killed during the charity’s operations in the country and staff, ambulances, and medical facilities have been subjected to dozens of other attacks.

Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president, said, “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. We are ending our programmes in Somalia because the situation in the country has created an untenable imbalance between the risks and compromises our staff must make, and our ability to provide assistance to the Somali people.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5150