Sunday, 13 March 2016

"Humanitarian aid workers"

or something else? 
I think "something else" is more likely. There was an article in the Australian yesterday which someone alerted me to. It was by Rodger Shanahan "Let's not take Syrian-based aid workers at their word."
He was questioning whether people going into Syria and claiming to be "humanitarian aid workers" were actually aid workers or whether they were going there for other reasons.
My answer is that there can be little doubt they are going there for other reasons. They are naive in the extreme if they believe anyone who knows anything about humanitarian aid work would think otherwise.
You don't just jump on a plane and head off into a conflict zone. It's not just a nice comfortable plane ride to an airport in another country where you are greeted by someone who welcomes you and escorts you off to where you are needed. 
The sort of work these "aid workers" claim to be doing, the conditions under which they claim to be doing it, and their (relative) safety, simply doesn't exist. Locals may stay to do some of it, particularly if they have no choice, but a foreigner with little or no command of the language will not be doing it.
Getting people into a conflict zone can require lengthy and delicate negotiations. Those negotiations are often high level and, once granted, entry may be hedged around with restrictions. There are often huge obstacles in the way of those trying to help.
I know something about the linguistic obstacles. Interpreting is an inexact science, especially when relying on untrained people. It is fraught with cultural,  political, social, scientific, and even religious problems. 
That's only a start. There are other political issues. There are the problems of actually getting there. There is personal safety, the risk of being kidnapped or killed. Journalists have to embed themselves in military units for some degree of safety - and how many of them have been killed in the past year? One would be too many - and there are many. There is the need for shelter, food, water, and more.
And if you do want to do humanitarian aid work then there are refugee camps where help is needed. But they would prefer you were trained first. I don't blame them. I would prefer you were trained too. The last thing those trying to administer such places need is someone who doesn't know what to do, where to go or how to behave. 
So, if you call yourself one of those "humanitarian aid workers" and you aren't working with a recognised organisation or you're not there by invitation please don't expect me to believe you are there for humanitarian purposes.