Northern Mali: Work resumes in countryside as search for staff continues
On 8 February 2014, the ICRC lost contact with one of its vehicles as it was travelling between Kidal and Gao with five people aboard, all of them Malian. After suspending its movements in northern Mali following this incident, the ICRC has now decided to gradually begin them again. Christoph Luedi, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Mali, takes stock of the situation.
Do you have any news of the ICRC team that went missing on 8 February 2014?
Allow me first to say that my thoughts are with the families who are enduring this appalling uncertainty with such dignity and courage. I would also like to pay tribute to all the people who are doing everything they can to find our missing colleagues and bring them back safe and sound.
Despite all our efforts, we still have no useful news about them. At this stage, while we're unable to say who is responsible, everything leads us to believe that they’re being held somewhere in the north of the country.
We must bear in mind that human lives are at stake here, so it’s important to remain circumspect and avoid speculation. We’re sparing no effort and are using all the resources available to us to find these people.
What practical steps is the ICRC taking to find them?
We’ve approached all our contacts in the region who may be able to help us find a positive outcome to this crisis, which has lasted now for several weeks. We’ve set up crisis groups in Gao, Bamako and Geneva to follow the situation closely.
We're working ceaselessly and doing our utmost to locate them. Among other things we're maintaining regular contact with all the parties in northern Mali. Obviously, it’s important that we find them as soon as possible.
How is this situation affecting the ICRC’s work in Mali and the people you're assisting?
The main consequence is the slow-down in our activities. We immediately suspended all movements in northern Mali. We only continued a few activities that didn't require travel outside urban centres.
Our medical team carried on its work at Gao Hospital, and we continued to collect and distribute Red Cross messages in conjunction with the Malian Red Cross, visit people detained in Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Bamako and repair water-supply systems in some towns.
Nonetheless, many people living in rural areas depend on outside aid, and they are beginning to feel the effects of the suspension.
The ICRC has decided to start travelling round northern Mali again, although the five staff members are still being held somewhere. Isn’t that dangerous?
Although we still have no news of our colleagues, we’ve decided to gradually start using some roads for which we’ve obtained firm security guarantees. Continuation of our activities will depend on a constant reappraisal of the security situation.
While we’re aware that security risks remain, it’s nonetheless important to take up some of our activities again so as not to allow further hardship to be inflicted on the people who continue to suffer the effects of the conflict.
Naturally this doesn’t at all mean that we’re abandoning our efforts to find our team. On the contrary, finding them remains our top priority.