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2.6. Healthcare professionals and humanitarian workers, including individuals working for national and international NGOs

Last update: November 2021

COI summary

Already during the conflict, the Taliban increasingly tried to present themselves as a government overseeing the delivery of services, and accordingly interacted with aid organisations. However, incidents of targeting healthcare workers were reported, including killings, threats, intimidation, harassment, and abduction of healthcare personnel. Clinics often bargained a deal with the insurgents in order to be able to operate in a certain area. The situation for healthcare workers differed from area to area, depending to the degree of control versus contestation by insurgent groups. Disruption of activities, kidnappings, confiscation of ambulances, looting and forced closure of clinics were also reported [COI query on humanitarian workers and healthcare professionals; Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.6.2].

In some cases, NGO workers were targeted by insurgents as a result of their activities being perceived as non-neutral or in violation of cultural or religious norms. Other examples included targeting of people active in polio vaccination campaigns (sometimes considered as spies) or in de-mining programs (considered as an activity contrary to the military interests of the Taliban). It is also reported that healthcare workers were threatened to provide better services for certain communities, more specifically with regard to COVID-19 measures [COI query on humanitarian workers and healthcare professionals].

In addition, there were incidents of humanitarian workers, including healthcare professionals, who were accused by ANSF actors or PGMs of maintaining contacts with insurgents and were therefore targeted [Conflict targeting, 1.2.6, 2.4].

Incidents with Taliban or (pro-)State actors often occurred in cases where hospitals and aid workers were accused of having treated (or of refusing to treat) wounded fighters or were accused of spying or covert support of the other side in the conflict [Conflict targeting, 1.2.6, 2.4].

ISKP considers humanitarian workers as legitimate targets because of links with foreign organisations or donors [COI query on humanitarian workers and healthcare professionals].

Targeting of humanitarian workers was also reported by UNAMA for the first half of 2021. Such targeted killings included the attack on de-miners working for the Halo Trust in Baghlan in June 2021, when at least 11 people were killed and 15 others wounded. Polio vaccination workers were also attacked in June 2021. NGO staff was also attacked by a magnetic IED detonation in June 2021 in Nangarhar [Security September 2021, 1.4.2, 2.23].

In the first six months of 2021, WHO recorded 30 incidents involving attacks on healthcare in Afghanistan, affecting eight provinces and 18 districts; 22 of these attacks occurred between March and end June 2021. This marked an increase compared to the same six month period in 2020, when 19 incidents occurred [Security September 2021, 1.4.3]. Incidents of killing and injuring healthcare practitioners were reported in a number of provinces, including Baghlan, Balkh, Farah, Ghor, Helmand, Kabul, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Zabul. In some incidents, healthcare providers were also detained [Security September 2021, 2.4, 2.5, 2.8, 2.11, 2.12, 2.15, 2.16, 2.23, 2.35].

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. abduction, killing).

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: gender (i.e. women), nature of activities (national/international NGO with activities related to polio vaccination, demining, etc.), link with the former government or foreign donors, speaking out against an armed group, origin from areas where ISKP has operational capacity, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.