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#NotATarget: Humanitarians Are Being Killed In Overseas Conflicts

The life of a Red Cross delegate is one of extremes.

18/02/2017 11:27 AM AEDT | Updated 18/02/2017 11:27 AM AEDT
Ramin Hashempour/ICRC
Dorsa Nazemi-Salman has worked with the Red Cross since 2012.

Fear isn't part of Dorsa Nazemi-Salman's vocabulary. It can't be. Not when you're heading up operations for the International Committee Red Cross (ICRC) in southern Nigeria, one of the deadliest places on earth.

"I was just saying to somebody today it's so nice to be able to walk on the street and not be worried about being attacked or kidnapped," the Perth local tells The Huffington Post Australia after returning from a 28 month stint in the conflict-ravaged nation.

"You can take a nice stroll down on the street and listen to your music and not be so security conscious."

It's no wonder Nazemi-Salman is relieved to be home.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has a long history of violence and it's no different at the moment. Currently, the Red Cross are dealing with the fallout from conflict between radical Muslim group Boko Haram and state authorities, a farming crisis, and chronic violence in cities rife with gangs, crime and even guerrilla warfare.

"Nigeria is the largest African state, one in five African is a Nigerian. It's a powerhouse. So geographically it's a big country as well. And due to that it has a very complex and diverse ethnic build up," Nazemi-Salman says.

Ramin Hashempour/ICRC
Dorsa Nazemi-Salman has been working in the south of Nigeria for the last 28 months.

She says there is always the risk of violence while working in the field along with growing concerns about humanitarians being deliberately targeted in the conflicts.

But Nazemi-Salman says it's worth the risks given the life-changing work the ICRC undertakes in the impoverished nation. The Red Cross is currently providing medical training to people impacted by conflict and has established hospitals in camps for internally displaced people. They also run a cattle vaccination program and have economic initiatives for widows and their households.

Some aid workers pay the ultimate price. Nazemi-Salman's return from Nigeria follows the deaths last month of civilians and six aid workers from Nigerian Red Cross following an airstrike on the town of Rann, near the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. Another attack in Nigeria just over two weeks ago left five United Nations officials dead.

Then in February, six ICRC staff members were shot and killed in Afghanistan, with two people still missing. On the same day, an attack in Syria killed two Red Cross volunteers, injuring seven more.

"The attacks on humanitarians seems to be on the rise, even though we are not party to the conflict. Especially when it comes to the Red Cross, we cherish and we are very strict on our neutrality, impartiality and independence," Nazemi-Salman says.

"When another one of your colleagues is attacked like this, it becomes personal. You start to think 'it could have been me. It could have been my family who got the phone call'."

Whenever the Red Cross enter an area of armed conflict, they approach all existing groups to communicate that they are a neutral humanitarian organisation who are providing aid to vulnerable people in that country.

It's all part of reducing the risk to their staff and volunteers, Nazemi-Salman explains.

"One of the major roles that we have, or activities that we have, is going and talking to the leaders, going and talking to the soldiers, going and talking to the community, to the traditional rulers, to the civilians, to the guy who owns the shop, to the police officers. We don't just go and talk to one party, we talk to everybody, it's in our mandate."

The Red Cross movement is still in shock over the recent killings of their staff. Members from around the world have posted to social media using the tag #NotATarget to highlight the impact of the deaths on the humanitarian community. Nazemi-Salman says it's part of their collective mourning process.

"I actually tweeted about not a target," she tells HuffPost Australia. "A lot of my colleagues across the Red Cross movement, be it ICRC or Australian Red Cross or Arab Syrian Red Crescent, individually they have posted 'I am not a target'.

"I think it reiterates the importance that individually we are not party to a conflict and collectively we are not party to a conflict. We are there to assist the most vulnerable in a situation of violence and to target us you will not achieve anything but to put more pressure on the most vulnerable people in the community."

The life of a Red Cross delegate is one of extremes. Dorsa Nazemi-Salman said returning to Australia after a mission in a country of crisis takes some adjustment -- it can be difficult to not see first world problems everywhere you look.

"Your heart is pulled in two opposite directions. When you're on holidays you try to really look after yourself and to really engage with your families and friends. And so when you are on a mission, your mind is elsewhere and you're trying to make an impact.

"It's never easy to be away from your family and friends, but I personally really love what I do. I enjoy working as a humanitarian and I always feel inspired to go out there and try to make a difference."

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