Fri, Sep 15, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Pakistan ejects MSF from border region

Reuters, PESHAWAR and ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Pakistan on Wednesday told medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to stop work and leave its impoverished tribal areas that border Afghanistan, the group said, ending its 14-year stay in the volatile region.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) works out of two health facilities in the Kurram district of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region, which has been plagued by militancy over the past decade and was the location of many US drone strikes targeting commanders from al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

Although security has improved in the region in recent years, sectarian militant attacks, primarily targeting Shiite Muslims, still occur. Twin blasts in the Kurram’s most populous town, Parachinar, killed more than 75 people in June.

Local officials say MSF provides essential healthcare facilities in an area with some of Pakistan’s poorest healthcare and lowest literacy rates.

“We have been asked to close our medical activities in Kurram Agency,” MSF said in a statement to the media issued late on Wednesday, adding that Pakistan had refused to issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the charity to work in the tribal areas.

“MSF is saddened by the decision from the authorities responsible for NGOs working in Kurram Agency. The closure brings to an end 14 years of MSF working with the FATA Health Services in Kurram Agency,” MSF country representative Catherine Moody said in the statement.

Foreign nationals and organizations working in Pakistan require NOCs to operate in certain areas. Pakistani NGOs and journalists also face restrictions when working in the tribal areas.

“MSF provides diagnosis and treatment facilities to the community for Leishmaniasis, immunization for children, as well ... responding to emergencies, disease outbreaks and mass casualties,” it said.

“We will, as much as possible continue to provide obstetric and newborn services to the women of FATA through the MSF women’s hospital located in Peshawar,” the statement said.

The region’s health directorate did not respond to requests for comment, but Mohammad Ishaq, a doctor who works there, said MSF was asked to leave because they did not have a valid NOC.

“I personally think MSF was doing a great job for the patients in FATA,” he said, adding that he did not know why its license to work there was revoked.

“We have been working in FATA since 2004. We were never denied an NOC in the past. This will affect many patients in the area,” one MSF employee said, asking not to be identified.

The organization had 70 staff members working at the two health facilities, he said.

The official who notified MSF that their operations would need to be shut down added: “I did what I was directed to by my bosses in Peshawar, but really don’t know the reason behind MSF being stopped.”

Additional reporting by AFP

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