I worked with the UNHCR in the former Yugoslavia in the mid 1990s. They do excellent work, are smart and very aware of possible threats to the refugees, the camps and are very watchful of possible combatants entering the “system.”
Whether you agree with armed force, peacemaking or peace keeping in whatever conflict, the fact remains that many innocent and vulnerable people including children, hospital patients, the old are often directly in the path of these conflicts. Often the people who are “helping their own” are former university students, hospital workers, municipal employees that are now unable to work or help their own countries population as the hospitals, schools, municipal or other governments, universities, etc. are bombed, blown up or no longer functioning. All civil systems stop – grocery stores, water, electric, medical, dental, pharmacies, etc. There is no police force, firemen or utilities. No hardware stores or materials or equipment needed to fix essential systems. There is no fuel, fuel oil or electricity to heat homes. These UN agencies and other non-UN agencies like “doctors without borders” etc. go into these areas and try and help these people and stabilize the region.
Most – almost all – of these people didn’t want this to happen to their country, home, city or school. They were just trying to live their lives. The war – just like WW1 or WW2 – came to them.
I was a combatant who either flew air cover missions to protect these agencies or the areas that had been declared under UN protection or was on the ground directing the same air missions. We ran air cover to protect the convoys of trucks bringing in water, food, medical supplies and staff to areas that had been decimated in whatever war took place there. Most of the time the threat and visible protection of the military was enough; others times it wasn’t.
I don’t want to get too graphic but it isn’t pretty. We found kids camping out all by themselves as orphans, elderly people wandering around with dementia, no meds and many women with small children unable to help themselves or their kids.
I had little knowledge of these agencies until I worked with them. They are staffed by people – often women – from all over the world who wanted “to do something” to help and are contracted by the UN and go to the areas in question. We met accountants, logistics managers, doctors, dentists, truck drivers – many ex-military from all over the world – and engineering staffs to help re-establish utilities – water, electric, etc. You also meet ex-military combat engineers whose job is to de-mine a road or area from all the UXBs and mines left from the combatants. These are some of the bravest people I ever met. I very much came to respect these agencies and what they do for the helpless of the world.
Unfortunately, all you ever see on the news are the combat missions and the most radical of the area’s combatants – especially with ISIS/ISIL combat is required.
Little is said or covered by the other 99.9 per cent of what happens when an area descends into armed conflict. Little is also said of all the countries who are there helping. Usually there are dozens not just Canada, the US or the UK. Almost nothing is said of what all these military organizations do in these places when they are not pulling a trigger – they rebuild the bridges, the utilities, re open hospitals, telephone exchanges etc. You never hear of what Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Austria, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, South Africa, etc., etc. are doing in all these broken countries. I watched a private German construction firm rebuild an entire town in Yugoslavia without the help of their government or UN funding. They asked the Canadian combat engineers to teach them how to find and disarm the mines, then did it. We often found the original engineers of a utility system still there in that town trying to get the electrical grid running or water flowing. They can’t as they have no materials and the heavy equipment is disabled or gone but they are still there and know the systems. The UN and military forces help them with those materials and equipment.
Not meant to be a lecture or to offend but as perhaps additional perspective as the world tries to figure out what to do with places like Libya, Syria, Nigeria, Yugoslavia – the list goes on.
I heard a quote today – “It’s time for humanity to overrule fear.” Very true in my book.