This article was published by IRIN, the UN’s press service, on March 3
BEIRUT, 3 March 2014 (IRIN) – A few weeks ago, the head of security for a charity in Lebanon got the kind of call you never want to get. “One of our staff has been kidnapped,” the voice on the other end said. “She was at a checkpoint an hour ago and no one has heard from her since.”
The panic turned out to be misplaced – the woman had taken an unexpected turn and had forgotten to radio in – but it indicates the difficulties of working in an increasingly violent country.
Lebanon has averaged over a car bomb per week so far in 2014, with the majority on the outskirts of the capital, Beirut. The alleged culprits have largely been al-Qaeda-affiliated groups often targeting areas traditionally run by the Shiite political party Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. On top of this, there have been a string of kidnappings in recent years, while the country’s second city Tripoli is trapped in a low-level civil war.
For a country that underwent a relative period of peace from 2007 until late 2012, the uptick in violence over the past 18 months has been severe, with fears of a return to the civil war that tore the country apart from 1975 until 1990.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the civil war next door (UNHCR has registered over 935,000 in Lebanon). To adjust to this, most charities in the country have scaled up their operations rapidly. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the largest NGO in the country, had 15 Lebanon staff when the Syria crisis started in early 2011. Currently they have more than 500.
Trying to manage these huge increases in operations while ensuring staff are kept safe has been a challenge that requires increasingly complicated responses. The primary move has been to scale up their security teams: until 2012 almost no NGOs had dedicated international security experts, now the bulk of major NGOs do.