In Their Own Words: Why Armed Fighters Attack Aid Workers

September 14, 2017

Why would anyone want to harm an aid worker?

They're just there to help. They don't take sides. They're protected by international humanitarian law. Yet they've repeatedly been the target of some of the worst forms of violence, from kidnapping to gang rape to beheadings. In 2016 alone, 288 aid workers were attacked.

The fighters have their own assumptions, too. Thinking that aid groups are spies or bringing expired food is "absolutely not true," says Pauline Chetcuti, head of humanitarian advocacy and policy for Action Against Hunger, a relief organization that works in conflict zones across South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Chetcuti has an idea of how the misperceptions might arise. "Humanitarian assistance is based on principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence," she says. But in recent years, "there has been a blurring of the lines."