Afghanistan: Local aid workers in the firing line

News and Press Release
Originally published
KANDAHAR, 27 October 2008 (IRIN) - Homayun (not his real name) has grown a beard, changed the way he dresses, deleted all foreign names from his mobile, and conceals his ties to aid agencies: He is trying to stay safe in the face of increasing threats to aid workers by the Taliban and other insurgent or criminal groups.

He has been working for an international aid agency in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, for five years but has never been as concerned as he is now.

"If the Taliban know that I work for an international organisation, it will not take them long to either kill or kidnap me," he told IRIN at his office in Kandahar city, preferring anonymity for himself and his organisation.

"I am also worried about my family," Homayun said, adding that abductions for ransom were rampant in the volatile province.

The worsening security situation and frequent attacks on aid workers have prompted aid agencies to be extra cautious. Some UN and international aid agencies have resorted to heavily guarded offices protected by huge blast-resistant walls and armoured vehicles. Others have restricted their movements and/or scaled down their activities.

Far more Afghans than international staff work for NGOs, and it is the Afghans that are more likely to be sent to, or willing to work in, volatile areas.

ANSO report

According to figures from the Afghanistan NGOs Safety Office (ANSO), 23 of the 28 aid workers killed from January to September were Afghans.

Afghans working for aid agencies are considered vulnerable to abduction by criminal gangs, too. Of the 72 abducted aid workers in the first nine months of the year, 68 were Afghans; three of them were killed in captivity, ANSO reported [].

"Abduction has remained largely targeted towards Afghan nationals who account for 90 percent of the total," ANSO reported in October.

"Abduction has been very lucrative with those involved gaining political, economic and military advantage," it said.

ANSO suggests insurgents have "outsourced" abductions to smaller criminal groups who have easier access to urban areas.

Afghan aid workers have increasingly also suffered beatings, threats and armed robberies. Female aid workers face even greater security risks and social restrictions and some have already quit their jobs.

"Afghans are more vulnerable to security risks than internationals. They are more in number and work in remote areas with the communities," said Anja de Beer, director of ACBAR - a network of 100 NGOs.

Almost half of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million people live on less than US$2 a day, and NGOs are an important source of employment, with local aid workers earning more than government employees who get $100-250 a month.