Three staff at international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) were found dead in the Tigray region in Ethiopia on Friday. In South Sudan, a security guard from a school supported by Save the Children was killed on June 20.
Maria Hernandez, an MSF emergency coordinator, Yohannes Halefom Reda, the assistant coordinator, and Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, the driver, were travelling on Thursday afternoon when MSF lost contact with them. On Friday morning, “their vehicle was found empty and a few metres away, their lifeless bodies.”
“No words can truly convey all our sadness, shock and outrage against this horrific attack. Nor can words soothe the loss and suffering of their families and loved ones, to whom we relay our deepest sympathy and condolences,” said MSF in a statement. The organisation “will be relentless in understanding what happened.”
MSF was joined by many commentators on social media in condemning the attack on their colleagues “in the strongest possible terms.”
“Maria, Yohannes, and Tedros were in Tigray providing assistance to people, and it is unthinkable that they paid for this work with their lives,” said MSF.
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, tweeted: “No words. From all of us at UNHCR solidarity, thoughts, and prayers for the families and friends of the MSF colleagues so horribly murdered in Tigray, like many of the civilians they were striving to help.”
"Humanitarian workers are not a target" – Women of Tigray
Women of Tigray, an organisation which amplifies the voices of women and girls of Tigray, said on Twitter that “MSF is in Tigray providing healthcare where no other alternative is available, including to survivors of weaponised sexual violence.” They expressed their shock at the violence and extended their condolences to the victims’ families, friends, and colleagues, explaining that “humanitarian workers are not a target.”
Mukesh Kapila, who led the UN’s largest country mission in 2003 and 2004 as the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan and blew the whistle to signal that Darfur was facing a genocide, said on Twitter: “A small part of each of us [was] also diminished when these humanitarian workers of MSF going about their lifesaving work were killed in Tigray.”
Maria Hernandez, 35, from Madrid, Spain, started working for MSF in 2015, in the Central African Republic. She had since worked in Yemen, Mexico and Nigeria. Yohannes Halefom Reda, a coordination assistant, was 31 years old, from Ethiopia and he joined MSF in February 2021. Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, 31, also from Ethiopia, had been a driver for MSF since May 2021.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray region of Ethiopia after fighting erupted in early November 2020. As of the end of March 2021, MSF teams are supporting five hospitals in the region and are running mobile clinics in dozens of locations.
Last week, MSF reported that thousands of refugees who fled conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are stuck in precarious conditions in El Tenideba camp, in neighboring El Gedaref in Sudan, due to the rainy season.
On Thursday, Save the Children announced the death of a security guard from a school they support on the evening of June 20 in Eastern Equatoria state in South Sudan. The organisation stated they are “shocked and deeply saddened” at the “loss of an ally who was killed in the line of duty, and condemn this senseless act of violence.”
The guard was shot and killed instantly by an unknown number of gunmen while protecting a school compound after-hours. The gunmen went on to steal property from the school including learning kits.
This comes after two Save the Children staff were killed earlier this year. A total of 128 humanitarians, mostly South Sudanese, have lost their lives while providing humanitarian assistance to people since conflict broke out in 2013, according to UN OCHA.