MSF work in Colombia hindered by the confusion between military actions and humanitarianism

Since the events in early July linked to the use of a false humanitarian identity by the Colombian military in the liberation of hostages, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have been forced to cancel or postpone mobile clinics in numerous rural areas in Colombia. This has a direct negative impact on the well being of the population living in conflict areas, specifically in the departments of Narino, Tolima, Guaviare and Cauca. The humanitarian medical organisation lost access to 35 percent of the zones where we work, resulting in a reduction of activity of approximately 300 medical consultations per week. MSF is deeply concerned by the misuse of the identity of a humanitarian organization in a military-driven operation. The misuse of a false humanitarian identity by armed forces is highly likely to cause confusion amongst the civilian population and armed groups. This results in a lack of trust in humanitarian organizations by the civilian population and armed groups, who doubt the independent, impartial and neutral nature of humanitarian agencies, and put the security of humanitarian workers at risk. "We're very worried about the consequences that this type of confusion could have on the security of our teams in the field, and on our ability to access populations in zones isolated by the conflict," said Grant Leaity who, with David Cantero, are two of the four MSF Heads of Mission in Colombia. "In the light of the situation, we want to stress that our action is totally independent from any government, military and armed groups, and from their interests and activities. MSF insists on having unhindered access to the civilian communities that request our medical support. MSF also had no knowledge of, and played no part in, the liberation of hostages in Colombia on July 2." People who live in rural areas of Colombia are particularly vulnerable and suffer the consequences of the armed conflict: they lack access to primary healthcare services, and suffer from shortage of food and live in isolation. In order to alleviate the consequences of this humanitarian crisis, the MSF teams work in 14 departments of the country providing medical care to these populations. In 2007, MSF carried out 101,000 medical consultations and 17,000 psychological consultations. In order to continue to assist this population, MSF demands that the independence of humanitarian action be respected and its image not used by any other group for any other purposes. MSF has worked in Colombia since 1985 providing medical and psychological care, social orientation services and relief support to thousands of people affected by the conflict. The organization also responds to epidemics and natural disasters. Currently, over 280 people work in the MSF projects in 14 Colombian departments.