Speech at “Issues on Operational Security for the Humanitarian Aid Worker” Seminar

Head of Regional Delegation, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr. Tobias Epprecht, Distinguished Guests, Leaders and Representatives of NGOs, ladies and gentlemen. Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh and a very good day to you all.

I bid you a very warm welcome to this “Issues on Operational Security for the Humanitarian Aid Worker” Seminar. The Islamic Outreach ABIM is pleased to be given yet another opportunity to co-host this event with our strategic partner, the International Committee of the Red Cross or ICRC. This is our small contribution towards expanding the understanding of some of the many aspects involved in humanitarian aid. This would be the second time that IOA is co-hosting such an event. The first, held in 2009, was the seminar entitled Protection and Assistance of Civilians Affected by Complex Emergencies and Armed Conflicts“.

Our cooperation with the ICRC is in line with Islamic Outreach ABIM’s objectives of disseminating knowledge and providing care and assistance to vulnerable groups. The latter objective in particular is accomplished through several of our core programs, including the Children’s Welfare and Sponsorship Program, the ISLAMICARE program for children and people with special needs, and the Orang Asli Socio-Economic Development Program. Although we have many weaknesses and hiccups, these programs have been running successfully for the past 10 years with the unconditional and sincere assistance of our volunteers, as well as donations-in-kind and cash from members of the public.

To enhance the success of our activities we have to ensure our activists and volunteers have absolutely transparent access to continuing knowledge-based and capacity-building initiatives. Apart from the pursuit of knowledge, it is also imperative that we make a rigorous effort to build a cadre of knowledgeable humanitarian activists that undertake this job efficiently and satisfactorily. IOA attempts to fulfil this endeavour through various means such as publications, lectures and seminars of this kind.

It is our fervent hope that there will be an intensive exchange of ideas and experiences, so as to stimulate discussion on issues concerning the selected sub-themes. It is also hoped that the discussions would develop informed approaches towards devising operational security policies that work towards safeguarding the wellbeing and reducing the risks for the humanitarian aid worker. Today’s seminar aims to share and exchange experiences of working in the field among humanitarian organizations and institutions, and to identify the most pressing issues relating to safety and security of humanitarian aid workers in high risk situations.

One of the most important issues I am looking for today is the development and adoption of helpful policies, informed measures and best practices by organizations that work toward reducing the risks faced by humanitarian aid workers in their operational activities. IOA is not a full-fledged humanitarian organization, although we do send a small number of our volunteers to selected humanitarian missions in countries afflicted by humanitarian crisis. Our long-term plan is to expand our role in this sector by inviting more people to become volunteers in humanitarian missions. In doing so, we need to protect them with a reasonable level of knowledge and skills related to the operational aspects of humanitarian aid. Hence it is our hope that by organizing seminars such as this we would be able to gain access to the resources readily available amongst the prime actors in this field, such as ICRC and our fellow NGOs already involved in this field.

Also of utmost significance in today’s seminar is IOA’s role in linking ICRC to fellow Islamic NGOs who are directly involved in humanitarian work. We regard agencies like the Malaysian Relief Agency, Islamic Relief, Yayasan Salam, our doctors from the hospitals, and many other humanitarian aid workers to be part of our larger network in lending assistance to vulnerable groups. The role of IOA, apart from acting as an important link, must also provide knowledge and awareness on selected issues related to themes such as our seminar today.

As a matter of fact, creating awareness about the need to develop and adopt helpful policies, informed measures, and best practices in reducing the risks faced by humanitarian aid workers is the challenge for the NGO community, it is a challenge to all of us, and so let us please address this issue. I do not expect that by the end of this day we will have all the answers. But if we begin the process today and continue our deliberations by the contemporary method of communication such as the internet, I am sure that by the time we meet once again in the future, substantial progress on this issue will be made, at least for Malaysian NGOs. It is for you all to metaphorically “take the bull by the horn” and move ahead. And it is for this reason that the NGO community in the future may hopefully remember this Seminar as a memorable event in which issues of Operational Security for the Humanitarian Aid Workers were discussed and deliberated very seriously.

We would like to record our utmost gratitude to ICRC for inviting us again to co-host this event. We believe that while organizing an event of this nature is a challenging project in itself, often hurdles that naturally emerge on the way to a successful event become a test of one’s patience. In 2009 when we first agreed to ICRC’s offer to organize a seminar, we were honoured by the presence of Dr Ameur Zemmali who holds a doctorate in law and is the legal advisor for ICRC. Dr. Ameur has over 20 years of experience in International Humanitarian Law and has written extensively on the subject, giving useful insights from the Islamic perspective. We tried our best to have one seminar last year, but due to various constraints on both organizations, we were beset on several occasions. This however did not deter our spirits. With the help of ICRC, and I believe with their staff’s persistence and professionalism, we are able to share with you today’s event, which I believe offers useful knowledge on yet another important aspect of humanitarian aid.

This event therefore provides an excellent opportunity for participants to interact in the area of humanitarian and disaster relief operation. Also with the presence and facilitation of our experts from ICRC as well as our guest panellists, this will certainly help in promoting a common understanding and approach on managing the multiple and complex issues of a disaster-prone world, as well as strengthening institutional and national capacities in International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian assistance. It is our aim that the event would better prepare disaster personnel to function in a multi-organizational disaster situation.

Given the good mix of participants today, which include representatives from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) with expertise in humanitarian aid, I am sure that you will have more in-depth discussions and exchange of views on the subject matter. More importantly, I hope you will take the opportunity to interact and network with one another, understand each other’s working systems and constraints, as well as to learn from one another. And above all, not to forget one another after the event is over!

We have a full agenda for today’s Seminar and workshop later in the afternoon session, and I am sure that it is going to be an interesting learning experience for all of us. We all look forward to that experience in great anticipation. I hope that you will find the program today beneficial and fruitful. Thank you for your presence today.

Azril Mohd Amin

Eastin Hotel │ 18th April 2011

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