Safe passage and access for humanitarian aid must be a right not a privilege in Ukraine

Following the soul-wrenching reports we received from trapped Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff in Mariupol, Ukraine, we are closely following the ongoing reports about an agreement for safe passage of civilians this weekend.

It is vital that such opportunities for civilians to escape from areas of violent warfare are not one-off and time-limited offers. At MSF, we know how dangerous this can be for civilians who are not able or willing to leave, including medical staff that choose to remain to take care of sick and wounded people.

“Every situation is different, but in our decades of experience working in situations of war we know that one-off humanitarian corridors can be helpful, but are not enough,” says Stephen Cornish, General Director of MSF. “Several times we have witnessed civilians encouraged to leave through time-bound civilian evacuation corridors, and then… those who could not or would not flee were met with extraordinary and indiscriminate violence unleashed on everyone and everything left behind.”

“As a result, many people were killed or maimed, including many medical staff and other civilians,” says Cornish.

We call for the rules of war to be observed by all the military fighting in this war in Ukraine; to take all precautions to avoid harming civilians and to consider civilians as civilians at all times and in all places in the country. Safe passage for those willing and able to escape should be urgently assured in Mariupol and across war-affected areas inside Ukraine, regardless of the existence of humanitarian corridors or ceasefires that may temporarily be put in be in place.

For those that stay behind, they cannot lose their civilian status; the warring parties must do all in their power to prevent harm to civilians at all times, in all places.

MSF supports any kind of ceasefire initiative that allows safer passage for those wanting to flee and for medical and other humanitarian assistance to enter. But the right to seek safety and access for humanitarian aid should be an obligation and not a privilege everywhere in Ukraine.

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