After a series of attacks on its staff, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has taken the decision to reduce its presence in Afghanistan.
“Since December 2016, the ICRC has been directly targeted in northern Afghanistan three times, including in what we considered one of our safest facilities, the rehabilitation centre in Mazar-i-Sharif. These incidents have affected not only the ICRC in Afghanistan, but the organization as a whole,” said Monica Zanarelli, head of delegation for the ICRC in Afghanistan.
Following intensive discussions, together with the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, the ICRC has reached the conclusion that there is no other choice but to drastically reduce its presence and activities in Afghanistan, in particular in the north of the country.
Consequently, the ICRC’s offices of Maimana and Kunduz will be closed, while its sub-delegation in Mazar-i-Sharif will be seriously downsized. The rehabilitation centre in Mazar-i-Sharif will remain open, while the ICRC assesses the ability of partners – whether other organisations or the Afghan authorities – to take over the running of the centre. In the rest of the country, activities are also being reviewed. Meanwhile, the ICRC is working on a severance and social plan for the staff who will be affected by the closures.
“This is a difficult moment for the ICRC and the staff,” said Ms Zanarelli. “After 30 years of continuous presence in the country, we are reducing our presence and operations. But let’s be very clear, we are not leaving Afghanistan. Limiting our staff’s exposure to risks is our focus, all the while assisting the people affected by the conflict the best way we can.”
In December 2016, an ICRC staff member was abducted in Kunduz province, and released four weeks later. This incident was followed by the brutal killing of six staff and the abduction of two others in Jawzjan province. After a seven-month-long ordeal, the two abducted staff were released on 5 September. Only six days after that, a physiotherapist was shot and killed by a long-term patient inside the rehabilitation centre in Mazar-i-Sharif.