Following harrowing reports Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) received yesterday from staff trapped in Mariupol, Ukraine, the international humanitarian organization is closely following reports of an agreement for safe passage of civilians this weekend.
It is essential that such opportunities for civilians to escape from areas of violent warfare are not one-off or time-limited offers. At MSF, we know how dangerous this can be for civilians who are not able or willing to leave, including medical staff who choose to remain to take care of the sick or wounded.
“Every situation is different, but in our decades of experience working in situations of war we know that one-off humanitarian corridors can be helpful but are not enough,” said Stephen Cornish, general director of MSF. “Several times we have witnessed civilians encouraged to leave through time-bound civilian evacuation corridors, and then those who could not or would not flee were met with extraordinary and indiscriminate violence unleashed on everyone and everything left behind. As a result, many people were killed or maimed, including many medics and other civilians.”
MSF calls for the rules of war to be observed by all the military fighting in this war in Ukraine, to take all precautions to avoid harming civilians, and to consider civilians as civilians at all times and in all places in Ukraine. Safe passage for those willing and able to escape should be urgently assured in Mariupol and across war affected areas inside Ukraine, regardless of the existence of humanitarian corridors or ceasefires that may temporarily be put in be in place. For those that stay behind, they cannot lose their civilian status: The warring parties must do all in their power to prevent harm to civilians at all times, in all places.
MSF supports any kind of ceasefire initiatives that allow safer passage for those wanting to flee and for medical and other humanitarian assistance to enter, but the right to seek safety and access for humanitarian aid should be an obligation and not a privilege, everywhere in Ukraine.