MSF is Shocked and Outraged by Attack on our Team in Somalia

MSF suspends international staff presence

New York/Nairobi, February 1, 2008 – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is outraged by what appears to be an organized attack resulting in the killing of our three colleagues Victor Okumu, Damien Lehalle, and Mohmed Bidhaan, as well as two other people, on Monday January 28 in Kismayo, Somalia.

As a mark of our respect and given the lack of clarity surrounding the circumstances of the attack, for the time being MSF has suspended all international staff presence in Somalia.

“We find this attack against one of our teams absolutely intolerable,” said Dr. Christophe Fournier, international council president of MSF, “and a serious violation of the humanitarian action to which our late colleagues were so committed.”

Eighty-seven international staff have been withdrawn from 14 projects across Somalia. “This attack has a direct impact on the level of assistance to the Somali population,” Dr. Fournier explained. “Although life-saving medical activities continue under the supervision of our dedicated Somali colleagues, the suspension will clearly hamper the essential medical work of MSF in Somalia.”

As MSF has highlighted on several occasions over the past year, this comes at a time when the country is facing a critical emergency with escalating violence, massive displacement, and acute unmet medical needs. Mortality rates in several areas are far beyond emergency thresholds. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are struggling to survive and are in urgent need of immediate assistance from the international community. They are the indirect victims of such attacks on humanitarian workers.

MSF is determined to provide assistance in Somalia. However as a neutral and independent organization, we rely on the acceptance, support, and protection of Somali communities to carry out our work. We appeal to all groups and belligerents in Somalia to respect the work of our national and international staff who dedicate themselves to treating Somalis in desperate need of healthcare.

MSF has worked continuously in Somalia for more than 16 years and is currently providing medical care in eleven regions in the country. Prior to the suspension, there were some 90 MSF international staff and there remain more than 800 national staff working in Somalia. In 2007, several new projects were opened as a response to the medical and humanitarian consequences of the current war. Medical teams performed more than 1,500 surgical operations, 520,000 outpatient consultations and admitted around 23,000 patients to hospital.