Q&A: More than bunkers and barbed wire — why security jobs are fascinating

By Sophie Edwards 28 August 2017
A detachment of Détachement Intégré de Sécurité in charge of the security of aid convoy going to the camps in Chad in 2011. Photo by: F. Noy / UNHCR

WASHINGTON — With the number of attacks against aid workers on the rise, the issue of security in the sector is more important than ever. But many humanitarians view the security professionals who are there to protect them as risk-averse, meddlesome ex-military workers who would rather keep them locked up in their compounds than get them out helping communities.

But this is far from true, according to Lisa Reilly, director of the European Interagency Security Forum — a network of security representatives for European humanitarian NGOs. She paints a very different picture of what it’s like to be a security risk manager in the humanitarian sector and why security can be a rewarding, but often overlooked, career option.

How to keep humanitarian workers safe while also allowing them to do their job is the subject of much discussion among aid bosses, especially in light of recent high-profile attacks, including the rape and assault of aid workers in South Sudan last year after soldiers stormed their compound.  

The latest data from the 2017 Aid Worker Security Report found that the previous year saw 288 workers either killed, kidnapped or severely injured. The majority were concentrated in a few countries, including South Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Yemen. So far this year, 82 humanitarians have been killed and 64 have been wounded or kidnapped, according to information provided by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ahead of World Humanitarian Day last week.