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Doctors Without Borders Pulls Out of Somalia

Doctors Without Borders President Unni Karunakara addresses a news conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Aug. 14, 2013.
Doctors Without Borders President Unni Karunakara addresses a news conference in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Aug. 14, 2013.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres], has closed all its medical operations in Somalia. MSF says it was forced to pull out because of continuous and extreme attacks against its medical workers in the country.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Nairobi, MSF President Unni Karunakara said armed groups and civilian leaders support and tolerate the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.

“We have faced the different security situation over the years as best as we could. Today we have a situation where there is no basic respect for humanitarian action. It is not possible to send humanitarian teams and in some way assure their safety. There is no possibility for us to do independent assessment in Somalia today. These are not conditions under which we can work,” said Karunakara.

MSF is one of the few international aid agencies that has received access to, and is providing for basic needs, in central and southern Somalia, alongside local Somali and Islamic aid agencies.

The medical group says for the last two decades of Somalia’s conflict, the group has negotiated with armed groups and authorities to allow its medical workers to have access to Somalis in need of assistance.

MSF helps hundreds of thousands of Somalis in the country, including the autonomous regions of Somalia.

Karunakara said a lack of cooperation from local authorities has complicated the group's mission. He cited the recent release of a person convicted of killing two MSF staff members in Mogadishu in 2011.

“In some cases, the same actors particularly, but not exclusively, in south central Somalia with whom MSF has had to negotiate safety have played a role in the abuses against MSF staff either through direct involvement or tacit approval. Because of their actions, hundreds of thousands of Somalis will now be effectively cut off from medical humanitarian aid,” he said.

In July, two women who had been working with MSF were released in Somalia after 21 months in captivity. Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut were abducted from the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya in October, 2011.

The humanitarian group has called on warring groups and Somali communities to accept and recognize the value of humanitarian action.

The group also called on all actors in the country to demonstrate through their actions the willingness and ability to provide for the safe presence of aid workers and delivery of aid to the needy.