MSF: humanitarian aid in a changing world

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Illustration: Dillon Yeh
Illustration: Dillon Yeh

On 3 October 2015 US air strikes fatally wounded 12 Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) members and ten hospital patients, while also wounding more than thirty people. The MSF has consistently called for an independent investigation, with over 30,000 people signing a petition to President Obama to consent to an independent investigation. The Saint sat down with MSF St Andrews members, president Farrah Yasmin Hussain and event coordinator, Emil Bremnes, to discuss their upcoming talk on 3 November that will discuss the events of the bombing and tackle the issues surrounding humanitarian aid.

My first question to both Farrah and Emil is how they became interested and involved with MSF in St Andrews: “I am a medic and it is my third year as part of MSF St Andrews. I am interested not only because of the fantastic medical work it does but also because of its humanitarian nature, which is really important to me,” Farrah explains. Similarly, Emil, a third year International Relations student, who has worked for MSF in his native Norway for two summers in a row since he was eighteen, says his passion for the organisation stems from their great humanitarian work and that they differ from many other organisations because their impartiality towards different governments.

In fact, the MSF event this year follows a hugely successful talk on Ebola in 2014, which was so popular it reached capacity well before the talk began, and has heightened public awareness of the organisation’s St Andrews branch. This is extremely important because, as both Yasmin and Emil explained, MSF chooses topical events that relate to news in order to raise awareness; the Kunduz Hospital bombing talk is no exception. “We need people to see that MSF, as an organisation, is not just about the medical but also the politica; it has a distinct International Relations aspect. We want to raise awareness of MSF as an organisation and moreover, humanitarian aid in general and attract people who might want to work for organisations such as MSF in the future,” Farrah explained to me.

What Farrah and Emil are most excited to talk to me about are the speakers who have been arranged to present at the event. Speaking first is Alastair Gordon Gibson, a recently graduated postgrad from the school of International Relations, who has worked for the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) since 1991. He has extensive experience and has worked on several war missions. As Farrah tells me, “He is a valuable asset to our event because he will be speaking about the general aspect of humanitarian aid and also about his own research.” Next up will be Dr Faye Donnelly, a well known and respected professor in the International Relations school who will, Emil informs me, be speaking about the differences between the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders.

This clearly demonstrates the wide scope of the talk: MSF St Andrews will be providing information about other key NGOs that are present in not only Afghanistan but several other war zones in the world. Dr Donnelly will be discussing how these organisations not only operate but how they “speak” and link with security. This is one of the key areas that she specialises in: critical security studies. Finally, a MSF field worker, Kim Clausen, who worked at the Kunduz hospital as logistician and coordinator, will be presenting his story. He has undertaken extensive field missions including three to South Sudan and he has also worked for the MSF in Kenya and Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic. As Farrah explains, “He will demonstrate the emotional aspect and really bring the repercussions of this event home for us.”

What both Farrah and Emil are keen to stress is that the costs of flight and transport for the speakers, particularly in the case of Kim Clausen, have been funded entirely from the university, with MSF St Andrews having successfully applied for one of St Andrews’ £6000 society bursaries. For the past three years MSF was the charity campaign’s chosen charity, receiving £16,000 until a change in its constitution occurred.

After my discussion with Farrah and Emil it is clear that this is going to be an extremely organised and slick event, and it is a “must-attend” for anyone who is interested in humanitarian organisations and International Relations. It will be held at Parliament Hall and tickets are free for members, £3 for members and £5 for both entry and membership to the organisation. All proceeds will go to MSF and the key charity work they are responsible for around the world. Get down early to avoid disappointment.

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