NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The aid group Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday it is pulling out of Somalia after 22 years there because of attacks on its staff, a decision that underscores the continued security risks the country poses military gains against Islamist insurgents and accompanying political progress.
In a scathing indictment of Somalia’s leaders, Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French initials as MSF, said the decision is the result of “extreme attacks on its staff in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.”
MSF has seen 16 staff members killed in Somalia since 1991, including two killed in 2011 in Mogadishu. MSF on Wednesday pointed to those two deaths and “the subsequent early release of the convicted killer” in contributing to its decision.
The group said the pull-out will cut off hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians from humanitarian aid.
“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,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president. “We are ending our programs 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.”
The pull-out comes about a month after the release of two Spanish MSF employees who were abducted in a Kenyan refugee camp near the border and held in Somalia for almost two years.
This nation in the Horn of Africa has been seen as making strides in security and governance. Somalia fell into anarchy in 1991 and for much of the last decade Mogadishu was ruled by warlords and al-Qaida-aligned militants. Those militants from al-Shabab were forced out of the capital in 2011, and a new government was voted into place. The security gains brought new measures of freedom to the capital. But violence persists. Some two dozen local journalists have been killed since the start of 2012.
Humanitarian needs in Somalia created unparalleled levels of risk for MSF, much of it born by Somali staff, the aid group said, forcing it to “take the exceptional measure of utilizing armed guards, which it does not do in any other country, and to tolerate extreme limits on its ability to independently assess and respond to the needs of the population.”
Al-Shabab still controls much of the country’s south. The group allows very few outside aid groups to operate in its territory.
MSF will close programs in Mogadishu and 10 other locations. The group said it provided more than 624,000 medical consultations and admitted 41,000 patients to hospitals and cared for more than 30,000 malnourished children last year alone.