15 June 2012
RedR’s Security Training Coordinator Phil Candy has recently returned from one of the world’s most challenging humanitarian locations, Dadaab refugee camp, in north-east Kenya. Home to half a million people who have fled conflict, drought and famine in neighbouring Somalia, aid workers here face a wide range of serious security threats on a daily basis. We caught up with Phil to find out how RedR training is enabling aid workers to continue operating on the toughest of humanitarian front lines.
How has RedR been responding to the East Africa food crisis in 2012?
In many ways, but most recently RedR has run a series of rolling personal security and first aid trainings for aid workers and humanitarian staff operating in Dadaab, the various sites of which make up the world’s largest refugee camp. As part of this programme, I delivered Security Management Trainings to NGO and UN staff. The course focussed on how to manage aid operations safely, understanding the context, identifying threats and vulnerabilities, mitigating risks, as well as key aspects of crisis management. The attendees were mainly Kenyan nationals.
Why is security training important?
Security Management Training gives aid workers the tools they need to manage their own security. Effective security management enables aid agencies to deliver safer operations. Security should never be a bolt-on; instead it should be an essential part of what aid agencies do and what enables aid agencies to continue their work.
Why is the Dadaab area so dangerous?
There are both external and internal threats which add to the complexity of this particular situation. At the end of 2011, Islmamist militant group Al-Shabaab warned the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia. Since then, there have been frequent attacks on government targets in north-east Kenya, including in and around the Dadaab camps. The presence of such a large number of refugees also makes the camps hard to police. A common Al-Shabaab tactic is to use IEDs - homemade bombs planted in the ground and activated by remote control – to attack police vehicles. This is a real problem for most humanitarian workers since the increased threat of kidnap means they need government or police escorts for protection.
What’s life like for people inside the refugee camps?
The camps themselves are also very unstable and it takes time for aid workers, even Kenyan aid workers, to gain acceptance. There is a lot of inter-clan violence, killing and attacks inside the camps which makes life extremely tough for the people who have already fled terrible conditions of war and conflict in Somalia.
Is there a threshold of acceptable risk for aid workers?
It’s a balance of risk and benefit. Aid is needed, you cannot suddenly stop supplying it, but aid workers have to understand the complexity of the situation. Each agency and individual aid worker needs to assess what level of risk they will accept to continue their vital operations.
Any other challenges?
The cost of doing aid work safely and well, and adequately helping almost half a million refugees in a complex and changing environment, is extremely high. You have to provide for aid workers’ sanity – they need to be properly supported otherwise they won’t be able to work effectively or handle the daily threats or intensity of the situation they face. For people living inside the camps, things are of course worse still. That’s why aid has to continue, despite all of the dangers and difficulties.
Photo (top right): Workers carry sacks of Corn Soya Blend inside the World Food Program (WFP) warehouse for distribution to refugees at Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border. ©REUTERS/Eduardo De Francisco, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.
Photo (left): Refugees who have been living in the outskirts of the proper camps in Hagadera wait to load their belongings onto trucks as they choose to relocate to Kambioos settlement, at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.