Aid workers can face a range of risks whilst doing their jobs, especially when they are working in places that are experiencing conflict.

Some aid workers are employed in roles that are inherently dangerous – such as working to remove mines or other explosive devices from areas where there has been fighting. In any live conflict zone, there is always the risk of being caught in crossfire or experiencing shelling. In remote or volatile areas, where there is little access to healthcare, even minor ailments or injuries can become life-threatening. Increasingly, there are also instances where aid workers are specifically targeted and either attacked or kidnapped. The risks may not always be the same for all staff and there is no certain way of eliminating the danger.

Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire at IWM North explores the challenges and tough choices faced by aid workers. Discover how three people who feature in the exhibition manage the risks of their work.

 

'A different sort of target'

Jane Drichta is Director of the Global Motherhood Initiative  (GMI), which worked with displaced Yezidi women in Khanke Camp, northern Iraq providing midwifery and mental health support.
Jane Drichta is Director of the Global Motherhood Initiative (GMI), which worked with displaced Yezidi women in Khanke Camp, northern Iraq providing midwifery and mental health support.

'A different sort of target'

Jane Drichta is a director and co-founder of the Global Motherhood Initiative, an organisation that provides psychological support and perinatal care to women who have been forced by conflict to leave their homes.

Whilst working in Mosul, Iraq during the fighting to liberate the city from ISIS, Jane was acutely aware that she was a “different sort of target” to the local Iraqis that she was working with.

 

“I had to have different precautions to my Iraqi colleagues, it’s not that their lives are worth less, it’s just that they are moving in a different system than I am."

In Mosul, another security concern was that her presence might increase the risks for others.

"We had a sniper in the building across from where we were working and we were very worried because everyone working in that building would have been a target because we were there and that was always on my mind.”

But ultimately Jane feels that it is her choice to do the sort of work that she does and believes that you just have to accept a certain level of risk:

“Any time anyone is shooting at you … you can’t blame anyone other than yourself when you feel threatened, you made a choice to be there.”

 

Access

Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.
Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.

Access

Some aid workers are international and can spend their careers travelling around the world. But the majority of people doing this work are local people working in their own countries.

In some high risk environments, national staff are the only aid workers able to gain access and provide support to people in these area. Detailed monitoring of violence against aid workers shows that it is these local national staff who experience the most attacks.

 

'Something could go wrong'

Portrait photograph of Natalie Roberts, featured in Aid Workers. Natalie sits at a table.

'Something could go wrong'

Natalie Roberts is an Emergency Operations Manager for Médecins San Frontières (MSF). The organisation's reputation and status allows its staff to operate in some of the world’s most volatile and contested areas. But in 2012 and 2013 working in East Aleppo in Syria, where there was risk of kidnap, Natalie chose not to wear a logo, like the one of her armband in order not to draw ‘unnecessary attention’ to the fact she was a foreigner.

‘I’ve often felt in danger, particularly in conflict zones…often, that was a danger that was predictable in some ways. If you go into the east of Aleppo in 2012, you know that there is bombing happening. They weren’t targeting me. At that point in time, they Syrian government was bombing the entire city. Then you know you’re at constant risk of being killed, essentially. The same thing in the north of Yemen, I didn’t feel personally targeted, I just knew that at any point in time something could go wrong. There wasn’t much I could do to protect myself against that.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Lebanon, Baalbek district, Arsal refugee camp. Aid workers.
© ICRC/Hussein Baydoun Lebanon, Baalbek district, Arsal refugee camp.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Faced with practical, emotional and ethical challenges on a daily basis, how do aid workers choose who to help and decide which risks to take, and can their presence do more harm than good?

Aid Workers: Ethics Under Fire brings together powerful stories from conflict zones to explore these challenges from an insider perspective.

 

Related content

© IWM MSF identity card issued to Dr Natalie Roberts in 2015, when she was the Emergency Coordinator for MSF’s response in Yemen.
© IWM MSF identity card issued to Dr Natalie Roberts in 2015, when she was the Emergency Coordinator for MSF’s response in Yemen.
Contemporary conflict
Aid Workers: Why we do it
Being an aid worker can mean facing hard choices and dangerous environments. Discover what keeps three aid workers going in difficult times. 
Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.
Karrimor rucksack used by Gareth Owen. Gareth has been an aid worker for almost 30 years, taking this rucksack on many of his most challenging assignments.
Saleem Ghadhban is an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) field officer in weapon contamination in Iraq. Saleem had been working in mine detection for more than 10 years before joining ICRC’s team in 2016.
© Ibrahim Sherkhan / ICRC Saleem Ghadhban is an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) field officer in weapon contamination in Iraq.