NGOs report 1,500 incidents against staff in 'difficult' year

Jennifer Rigby
NGO workers faced danger in a number of countries around the world in 2020 - Neville Elder
NGO workers faced danger in a number of countries around the world in 2020 - Neville Elder

Staff working at non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in some of the world's most dangerous countries faced 1,500 incidents - including kidnappings and killings - last year, according to new figures.

There were 1,558 incidents recorded by the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) in 2020, four per cent less than the previous year.

In total, 75 staff were killed, 150 injured and 210 abducted, INSO said, across 14 countries including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Syria.

The rate of detentions, injuries and abductions of NGO staff remained almost constant despite a reduction in their presence in some areas due to coronavirus, as well as the wide-ranging lockdowns implemented in a bid to stop the spread.

Nic Lee, INSO’s Executive Director said: “Given the extent of global disruption, we expected to see a more significant reduction in incidents impacting NGOs.

“We did not see the kind of community-driven incidents that we saw previously in relation to the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for instance, but this was a thin silver lining in an otherwise difficult year."

He said NGOs remained "very vulnerable" to collateral damage, criminality and direct targeting by armed groups.

While there were 33 reports of incidents directly related to Covid-19, that only represented two per cent of all reports, INSO said.

There have previously been numerous reports of health workers in particular being targeted during the pandemic.

There were 361 incidents of all types for NGOs in the Central African Republic, the report found, the most in the world. These include things like theft, burglaries and threats as well as more severe incidents leading to injuries or deaths.

Somalia had the highest proportion of abductions, injuries and killings, making up 40 per cent of all of its 50 reported incidents.

In DRC, ten NGO workers were killed, three times as many as in 2019. Thirteen people were killed in South Sudan and Somalia, 14 in Afghanistan and 15 in Syria.

Spikes in violence in a number of countries were behind the numbers, INSO said.

"In the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, NGOs were victimised by increasingly hostile armed groups with two mass casualty incidents – Borno, Nigeria in July and Tillabery, Niger in August – resulting in 10 NGO deaths," the report found.

Mr Lee added: “Unfortunately, conflict has proven one of the few human activities that coronavirus cannot disrupt, and our community will remain vulnerable to its challenges long after the virus has receded.”

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