Save the Children would now have to rely completely on local staff members in Pakistan: The Asian nation’s government has ordered all of the organization’s six international employees to leave the country.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior did not disclose its reason for expelling the foreign aid workers, Save the Children spokesman Ghulam Qadir told news agencies.
The nongovernmental organization said it has been “urgently seeking clarification” after it was informed early this week by the Interior Ministry that visas for its international staff might not be renewed. “Like many other NGOs in Pakistan, there have been ongoing problems with securing visas over the last 15 months,” Save the Children said in a statement.
There have been news reports saying Pakistan’s move was related to the government’s suspicions that Save the Children supported a foreign spy agency in the Asian country. Pakistan has previously accused the organization of working with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to arrange a vaccination campaign used to confirm the location of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani province.
Save the Children “strongly” denied the accusations and reports linking it to Dr. Shaki Afridi, who the CIA reportedly tapped to carry out a hepatitis B vaccination program in Abbottabad.
Alfridi was never employed by Save Children or “paid for any kind of work,” the group said. It also stressed that it has “never run” a vaccination program in Abbottabad, the town where Bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. soldiers.
Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said in a press briefing that the United States has reached out to Pakistan. It urged the government to let Save the Children continue operating there, adding that “independent NGOs are among the essential building blocks of any healthy democracy.”
Save the Children said its operations in Pakistan continues — supported by a staff of 2,000 Pakistanis that run programs reaching more than 7 million people across the country. The group has been working in Pakistan since 1979.
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