UN Suspends Air Operations In North East Over Helicopter Attack


A file photo of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon.

 

 

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon has suspended the operations of the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS).

This followed an attack that caused damage to an aid helicopter on Thursday in Damasak, a town in Borno State.

The attack was said to have been repelled by military forces who inflicted heavy injury on the insurgents who retreated and started shooting sporadically, resulting in the death of three civilians, including a minor.

In a statement on Saturday, Kallon revealed that a UN Humanitarian Air Service helicopter caught up in the crossfire was hit by bullets, causing serious damage.

He said, “I am gravely concerned about reports of another violent attack by non-state armed groups in Damasak, Borno State, on 2 July, in which at least two innocent civilians lost their lives, including a five-year-old child.

“Several others were injured, and a humanitarian helicopter was hit, sustaining serious damage.”

Although the UN representative noted that there was no aid worker aboard the helicopter, he called on the Nigerian Government to investigate the attack and swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to him, the attack and damage to the helicopter severely affect the ability of aid actors to provide urgently needed assistance to vulnerable people in remote areas across Borno State.

“The UN Humanitarian Air Service is essential to evacuate wounded civilians and remains the backbone to facilitating humanitarian access, thereby enabling UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to safely and securely reach the most vulnerable populations.

“In 2019, UNHAS transported 66,271 passengers and 147 megatons of humanitarian assistance, as well as conducted 30 medical and 70 security evacuations,” Kallon added.

He condemned the attacks against civilians, humanitarian assets, and aid workers, thereby calling on all armed parties to respect the international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The UN official also urged the parties to allow and facilitate safe and unimpeded access for humanitarians to deliver life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people in the North East.

According to him, 7.8 million people in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States, mostly living in remote areas need humanitarian aid.

Kallon explained that in recognition of Thursday’s incident and consultation with some humanitarian organisations, it became necessary to pause UNHAS rotary operations in the region.

He stated that this was to allow the UN to engage government partners and conduct new risk assessments for each helicopter location to ensure that they have taken all the possible mitigation measures.

“The pause will be for an initial period of one week, at which time we will review the situation.

“During this period, life-saving medical and security evacuations will be considered on a case-by-case basis with the authorisation of the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator/Designated Official in consultation with the WFP Country Director,” he said in a leaked memo.

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