Foreign aid agencies working in Pakistan have expressed concern that tighter security measures imposed in the aftermath of renewed political violence in the country would restrict their operations in flood-affected regions.
Foreign aid workers can only reportedly enter some areas if they are accompanied by armed escorts, which aid officials said is contrary to the neutrality principle of humanitarian assistance, IRIN reports.
“In most cases, we are being told that this is for our own protection, and because the police are responsible for our security. Oxfam understands and appreciates the concern that the district police have for the security of international staff, and we value their support,” Rebecca Barber, of Oxfam International, told IRIN.
“However, Oxfam believes that travelling with police escorts compromises our impartiality and independence, which are two of the core humanitarian principles that guide all of our work,” she explained.
Barber added that the use of armed escorts is potentially undermining the security and safety of Oxfam’s staff and beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities maintained that compulsory armed escorts are necessary for the safety of foreign aid workers in the country.
“In Asian countries like Pakistan and India, travelling with armed escorts sends the signal that these people are VIPs and [armed escorts] are a symbol of prestige - then no one in the community can harm them,” an official of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province explained.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that striking a balance between providing access and security is a challenge.
“The government takes the security of foreigners very seriously, but taking armed escorts can limit our access to populations in need, while extra clearance procedures could slow operations down at just the time when we are trying to gear up to meet massive needs. We are trying to agree a middle path,” Simon Lawry-White, of OCHA’s Punjab office, told IRIN.