Safety fears force last major British charity to quit Iraq

02/28/07 -- Sara Gaines The last major British charity working in Iraq is pulling out today as the worsening security situation makes it impossible to safeguard staff. Save the Children UK has announced that - after 15 years in the country - it is to shut its office because it can no longer reach the Iraqi children it wants to help.

"It was not an easy decision but it became more and more difficult for staff to get around
all parts of the country," said Paul Roberts, the charity's Iraq program director.

"It's been hard to keep track of local partners' day to day work and their safety has been
jeopardized. In practical terms it just became impossible."

Mr Roberts is based in Jordan along with the charity's other international staff but has
made monthly trips to Iraq to try to monitor work with Save the Children's local partners. He
said the security situation was getting worse, which made the decision to quit all the harder.

"The main focus in Iraq is around conflict and 'terrorism' but sadly that masks a huge
humanitarian issue that's arising. Children can't go to school, there are problems accessing
clean water..."

Children in Iraq form nearly 50% of the population and around 8% are estimated to suffer
from acute malnutrition. Although their needs are desperate, Mr. Roberts said the charity
was unable to ensure help reached them or to maintain organizational standards.

The charity repaired and re-equipped schools and hospitals in the aftermath of the war and
successfully lobbied for children's rights to be included in the new Iraqi constitution. Mr.
Roberts said they were proud of that legacy and would continue to support work by local
partners to form a Iraq-wide children's rights network.

Many other British charities have already pulled out of the country, though some smaller
groups remain. Three years ago Oxfam stopped direct aid and switched to arms-length
work through local partners in Iraq. Care International closed its operations there in 2005
after the abduction and murder of Margaret Hassan, its director in Iraq.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross is still active in the country,
providing medical aid and visiting detainees to check on their welfare.

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