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Press Release

Civilians and aid workers targeted, as global humanitarian needs reach unprecedented scale

  • Conflict from Syria to South Sudan led to record 65.6 million people displaced around the world
  • Aid delivery obstructed; Homes, schools, hospitals repeatedly targeted, in blatant violation of International Law
  • The International Rescue Committee calls for the protection of civilians and aid workers this World Humanitarian Day, August 19

Aid workers are facing increased risks as the most vulnerable civilians continue to be caught up in the frontline of battles around the world, warns the International Rescue Committee.

In July, armed raiders ransacked the IRC’s office in the town of Kaga Bandoro in the Central African Republic (CAR), holding two staff in custody while they stole cash and essential communications equipment. The attack temporarily forced the IRC to suspend operations. For the third year running, CAR is the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers, with over 180 incidents in 2017, including the death of six Red Cross volunteers on August 3. 

“Attacks on humanitarians are not only a serious breach of international law, but have consequences extending far beyond, penalizing those who depend on their help to survive,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

In Syria and Iraq, civilians living under the harsh rule of ISIS face an impossible choice; stay and risk being killed by airstrikes while they are used as human shields, or try to flee, risking execution, snipers, and explosive devices. In early August it was reported that 30 civilians, half of them children, were killed in a single airstrike in Raqqa and during the battle to retake western Mosul, 8 out of 10 buildings destroyed were people's homes.

Attacks on humanitarians are not only a serious breach of international law, but have consequences extending far beyond, penalizing those who depend on their help to survive.

In Yemen – the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, affecting over 20 million people – the disregard for civilian lives shown by both sides of the conflict has resulted in half of all health facilities destroyed. Around 15 million people have been cut off from clean water and sanitation, leading to the worst outbreak of cholera in the world, with one person dying every hour. What's more, imports of humanitarian supplies have been obstructed and air travel between the north and south of Yemen is restricted, severely impacting the ability of aid agencies like the IRC to reach those most in need. 

Fighting in South Sudan continues to hamper humanitarian access in areas where the needs are greatest. A fifth of the population have been displaced by the conflict and one in three face severe food shortages. Yet, a lack of progress towards a peace agreement has opened the way for further fracturing within South Sudan’s diverse ethnic landscape. An economy in freefall has led to rampant inflation, increased criminality and corruption, making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to move between communities in need.

“At a time of unprecedented global displacement and as the tactics of war become ever more brutal, the protection of civilians must be our primary concern,” Miliband said. “The IRC works in some of the most dangerous places on earth to support vulnerable people. But the only way we can help them is if our staff are kept safe.”

Find out more about the work of the IRC in CAR, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.