Olivier Vandecasteele launches project in support of humanitarian workers

Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who spent 15 months in an Iranian cell, on Thursday launched Protect Humanitarians, an initiative to protect and support humanitarian workers. "We want to find solutions to a common need that will benefit all members of the humanitarian community," he said.

While humanitarian workers are much needed, they are increasingly exposed to dangerous situations and threats. Last year, more than 500 were killed, injured or kidnapped while carrying out their work, according to figures from research consultancy Humanitarian Outcomes.

"Human rights activists and journalists have organised themselves to collectively defend their members," Vandecasteele said. "The humanitarian sector does not have this protection. Humanitarian workers, especially local humanitarian workers, are often on their own."

"The humanitarian sector does not have this protection. Humanitarian workers, especially local humanitarian workers, are often on their own"

Protect Humanitarians, with the support of the King Baudouin Foundation, is a response to the issue. "We want a platform to discuss the attacks on humanitarian workers and to work out an effective approach," he said.

Advocacy and awareness-raising

The project will focus, among other things, on emergency assistance to humanitarian workers who are victims of critical incidents, as well as advocacy and awareness-raising to better protect humanitarian workers. It will also share expertise and provide legal assistance to combat impunity for perpetrators.

Vandecasteele was jailed in Iran in early 2022 after being wrongly convicted of espionage and sentenced to 40 years in prison. After being held in a Tehran cell for 455 days, he was released in a prisoner exchange on 26 May 2023.

The Protect Humanitarians Fund is managed by the King Baudouin Foundation. Anyone wishing to make a donation can do so online.


Olivier Vandecasteele at the symbolic removal of a giant banner calling for his release in Tournai, June 2023 © BELGA PHOTO JUSTIN NAMUR

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