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This past Wednesday, gunmen abducted 10 humanitarian aid workers in the Tillaberi region of Southwestern Niger. At the time of the abduction, the workers were distributing food to Nigerians, most of whom are plagued by low income, malnutrition, food insecurity, and regional conflict, according to Al Jazeera. The gunmen entered the area on motorbike and threatened the victims into following them. Gunmen in the area have also recently attacked and stolen vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders. Many of these gunmen and fighters have ties to al-Qaeda and ISIS.
According to Kadidiatou Harouna of Action and Impact Progress (APIS), a UN World Food Program partner, APIS has delivered aid in the Tillaberi region without any problems in the past year. Indeed, this was the first such kidnapping of aid workers in the region. Nevertheless, aid workers have been targeted in other areas of the Sahara region. Just last year, six aid workers were kidnapped from Nigeria in July, four of whom were killed in December. When demanding the release of the workers, their Paris-based organization argued, “These are humanitarian workers who chose to devote their lives to helping the most vulnerable communities in Nigeria.”
This message highlights the inherent wrongness in targeting humanitarian workers. These aid-givers are not involved in the conflict itself except to help those who are most affected. To harm those who have not incited violence is a true demonstration of violence, one that cannot be allowed. The fact that such kidnappings have happened multiple times is even more concerning. The more dangers aid workers experience in the region, the less likely that region is to receive help in the future. Many foreigners, fearing for their safety, will now likely be hesitant to enter Niger. In this way, the terrorist actions are not only an act against the workers themselves, but also against the Nigerien people. The Nigeriens lack many basic resources to live and depriving them of support sources is an unjust act. Terrorist groups cannot be allowed to take advantage of these vulnerable figures.
Niger has been disrupted by terrorist activity since 2015 when the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which had already been a force of disturbance in the Saharan region, infiltrated Nigerien borders. Boko Haram’s actions have caused about 120,000 Nigerien refugees to flee south to Nigeria, while internally displacing about 109,000 people in the country. Niger’s defense minister pointed out just last year that only 200 kilometers of the country’s 5,800-kilometer border are undisturbed. Even with the aid of France, which has sent troops to counter Boko Haram attacks, Niger remains one of the most politically and economically unstable countries in the world. Surrounded by other war-torn countries, Niger has almost no support except from outside aid.
Niger needs humanitarian aid badly and threatening the lives of humanitarian workers might will prevent the safe delivery of such aid. Not only are the lives of aid-workers at stake, but also the condition of Niger itself. Boko Haram and its associate terrorist groups need to end their attacks on humanitarian aid. Offering a form of protection for humanitarian workers will certainly not bring an end to tensions in Niger, nor will it eliminate entirely the suffering of the Nigerien people. Nevertheless, allowing aid workers to serve safely within Nigerien borders would demonstrate progress towards peace. Allowing Nigeriens to benefit from aid services would increase the nation’s average quality of live, and would allow citizens to gain greater stability in such an uncertain and frightening time.