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ICRC: Safety of aid workers a daily dilemma

ICRC: Safety of aid workers a daily dilemma
From Al Jazeera - November 7, 2017

In the Turkish city of Antalya, delegates from 190 countries gathered to discuss safety concerns and challenges faced by humanitarian workers and volunteers in the field.

TheGeneral Assembly of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) began on November 6.

The evolving nature of conflict and disaster zones, access to affected people, and funding were also deliberated.

But thelong-standing question of whether humanitarian aid is helping to prolong conflicts such as those in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, remains.

Al Jazeera spoke with Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Al Jazeera: What challenges do you face and how will you overcome them?

Peter Maurer: In today's conflicts, there are of course multiple challenges in accessing besieged areas and populations we ca not reach. The first and foremost challenge is access to security for humanitarian workers.
This relates to existing or non-existing neutral and impartial space for humanitarian action but instead what we see today is an increase in what we call politicisation of the humanitarian space.

That is when state and non-state armed actors enter humanitarian space trying to manipulate humanitarian work, humanitarian workers, and health workers. They do not respect the neutrality of hospitals and traditional humanitarian work but instead try to make them an instrument in warfare.

This is a big preoccupation for an organisation like ICRC, which is basically designed to be the front line operator of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.

Al Jazeera: But are you impartial? Local committees have been criticised in various parts of the world for only providing aid to where state or non-state actors allow them ...

Maurer:We need to engage with all parties in a conflict, so we have to have access to all sides to explain what we are doing. At the end of the day, we have to be accountable to those who have political power on the ground, and accountability means transparency on what exactly we are doing.

We need to explain that what we are doing is needs based and not policy based and does not have a political bias. And this needs much more, which is very frankly the reason why ICRC was founded 150 years ago.

In conflicts, it's very difficult for the Red Cross or Red Crescent to be on both sides of the front line. It's much easier for the ICRC as the international component of the movement to try to negotiate that space in order to recreate the space.

But again, this means that ICRC will engage with all sides to negotiate, to make our people on the ground more aware so that we better know the actor so that we can talk to them.

Sometimes it is the civil society - the people on the ground - who defend us, because they talk to the fighters and are able to rein them in in certain circumstances.

So there is a multiplicity of activities that we are entertaining and that we are changing a little bit the way we are working even the big challenges that we are facing.

Al Jazeera: How would you respond to the criticism that the use of humanitarian work as a weapon of war has helped authoritarian governments remain in power?

We ca not escape the humanitarian imperative of helping people survive in the most difficult circumstances

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