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Providing assistance to refugees and IDPs comes at great risk, but aid workers do it all the same

….A personal reflection on World Humanitarian Day 2020

By Gabriel Adeyemo

Following the bomb blast in Ikeja Military Cantonment in 2002, I became, for several months, a displaced person.

My father was a military personnel, and our family lived in the barrack where the attack happened.

While none of my family members lost their lives in that unfortunate incidence, it taught me a lesson of how quickly life can unravel for people.

For the next two months, my family and I lived in a makeshift camp, set up by aid agencies. From there, we began a difficult attempt to retrieve some of our essential items like pots, clothes, shoes. We rarely succeeded.

I still recall the terror of hearing the blast, and how I joined other citizens to scamper for safety, walking the entire stretch of road from Ikeja to Mile 2, the whole time, wondering if all my parents and siblings were alive.

As a humanitarian worker today, I have seen women and children walk hundreds of kilometres to safety under very harsh and life-threatening circumstances just to be safe.

In my work in several refugee & IDP camps in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe and Ogoja, I have seen a level of suffering that made the suffering of my family in 2002 seem like paradise.

I have seen camps with people living on less than 60 cents (200 Naira) a day, I have seen mothers worried because there are no pots to cook for their children.

I have seen confusion and agony in the eyes of children who wonder how they got there and whether their plight may ever be over.

It is for reasons such as this that other humanitarians and I brave the noisy rotors of choppers and strap a breastplate as we venture into volatile terrains in the course our work.

Our passion is derived from the comfort we see in the faces the concerned population, the majority who cannot foresee a return to their normal lives.

As a person who has suffered displacement earlier in life and now works with forcibly displaced people, humanitarianism has come to assume a higher and personal significance for me.

Why we celebrate World Humanitarian Day

Following the bomb attack at Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, on 19 August 2003, where 22 people, including several UN aid workers, were killed, it became essential to remember the sacrifices made by aid workers who instil hope in conflict areas and create a more empathetic world.

The World Humanitarian Day (WHD), currently in its ninth year, was designed to memorialise the sacrifices of humanitarians who have to endure complex, insecure and difficult conditions serving in places plagued by conflict or strife.

The campaign focuses on what drives humanitarians to continue to serve and protect lives despite the associated risks and safety concerns surrounding their work.

Humanitarian workers provide vital assistance in conflict-ridden locations. They assist in the processes that regulate the lives of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

In camps or makeshift locations for those who have been forcibly displaced, humanitarians bring a veneer of normalcy in the lives of beleaguered people, providing medical, logistical and emotional support.

Since the advent of COVID-19, humanitarian workers have had to assume an additional layer of responsibility and risk in serving as frontline workers in IDP camps, makeshift hospitals, and in complex terrains with repeated interruptions to essential items.

They are treating and preventing COVID-19, administering vaccines, providing food, setting up safe spaces for women and girls amid the pandemic.

Given the restiveness of the locations in which humanitarians have to assist, their safety is often a matter of concern.

To make sense of this risk, it may be worth noting that since 19 August 2003, approximately 4,961 humanitarians have been killed, wounded or abducted while carrying out their life-saving duties.

A Shared Dedication to Service and Sacrifice

Amidst the risks and occupational hazards inherent in our work, what connects all humanitarians is our unwavering commitment to serve and sacrifice for the well-being of others.

The life of a humanitarian worker often transcends the confines of home and office hours routine. Sometimes, we do not have the luxury of returning to the warm embrace of family and friends on each day.

Assignments may take you to a far and distant place to ameliorate the suffering of others. To look into the eyes of beleaguered people and offer words of encouragement.

These situations can be personally daunting, but the duties of humanitarians and the assistance they provide are essential.

As a humanitarian, you comforted in the knowledge that you’ve made to someone’s life. That through your efforts, people who are forcibly displaced can find the strength to rebuild their lives.

My hope for all humanitarians and aid workers being celebrated on this day is that this recognition can give us renewed impetus to dedicate ourselves to the service of those who need us.

Gabriel Adeyemo is the Communications and Public Information Officer of the UN Refugee Agency, Abuja. He tweets @vinnydrey

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