March 4, 2021

Humanitarian workers, in the midst of crossfire in Afghanistan

Organizations and humanitarian workers are in the midst of crossfire between security forces and insurgents in Afghanistan, collateral victims of a war with 22 of these dead workers so far this year and also affects thousands of Afghans seeking help sanitary

Surgeon Sharif Shah went to sleep after a long day at work in a hospital in an area controlled by the Taliban, but, at midnight, he woke up exalted by the sound of screaming and shooting.

"We were terrified. The security forces had entered the hospital … They sat us in a row with their hands tied behind their backs and put us facing the wall," he told Efe Shah.

It happened on July 9, in a hospital administered by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) in the central province of Maidan-Wardak.

The only ones who remained in their beds were those who had been recently operated, while ten employees and 13 patients were then transferred to a room where they were interrogated for hours.

Later they took the hospital manager, Dr. Wahidullah, the security guard Sultan Mahmoud and the pathologist Muhammad Yasee.

"When the helicopters drove away, (we) started looking for them. At dawn we found the riddled bodies of our two companions – the security guard and the pathologist – 25 meters from the hospital, in front of a store," said the surgeon.

A Taliban and the companion of one of the patients, who had left the service, were also killed in the first moments of the raid, while the whereabouts of the center manager are unknown.

For Shah this was the worst incident in his 14 years of humanitarian work in the most insecure areas of Afghanistan.

"When the soldiers, who are supposedly to protect you, come to kill you, what feeling do you have left?" Says Shah in tears, which ensures that he will not return to his job.

After the incident, the Taliban also forced the SCA to temporarily close 42 health centers that offered services to thousands of inhabitants in Maidan-Wardak, since, according to them, they did not comply with the security protocol.

"All parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law and under no circumstances should a humanitarian worker be caught in that violence," one of the SCA executives, Dr. Khalid Fahim, told Efe.

Afghanistan is one of the countries in the world with the most attacks against health workers, which has a direct impact on some 3 million Afghans.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), so far this year the violence in Afghanistan has pushed the closure of 144 hospitals, mostly in the most insecure areas of the country.

In addition, in 2019, 77 humanitarian workers have been victims of violence (21 of them were killed), compared to 76 of 2018 or 72 of 2017, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"We are witnessing a pronounced increase in violence against health and humanitarian aid organizations in 2019, with a number of incidents this year already greater than in all of 2018, a situation that is reflected in civilians' access to basic services" the OCHA press office informed Efe.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense, whose security forces were behind the attack on the SCA center, remarked, however, that humanitarian workers will never be their target.

"Our job is to protect our countrymen and public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, not to attack them," Defense Deputy Spokesman Zubair Arif told Efe.

Although, he acknowledged, "sometimes unfortunate incidents occur due to the complexity of the war."

Baber Khan Sahel

. (tagsToTranslate) Humanitarian (t) workers (t) middle (t) crossed (t) Afghanistan

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