Kayla Mueller knew that she was putting herself in harm’s way when she slipped from to the Turkish-Syrian border into Syria, but the 26-year-old American felt compelled to help. Killed after being held captive by ISIS for more than a year, Mueller’s death followed that of a fellow American aid worker, Peter Kassig, who was beheaded by ISIS militants in November. British aid worker David Haines, was similarly executed in September.
While the threats to aid workers have come into a shocking light with their apparent targeting and brutal killings by ISIS militants, aid workers in Syria faced grave threats even before the Islamist militant group began to gain ground there last year. According to the Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database which tracks such figures, 55 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011. In terms of absolute figures, that’s the highest number of aid worker deaths in any country aside from Afghanistan.
Trevor Hughes, the Director of Risk Management and Global Security at International Relief and Development (IRD) said that while ISIS’ attempts to capture, ransom, or kill foreigners is concerning, the group’s gruesome stunts haven’t had a real impact on his work — especially because many kidnappings are carried out by opportunists. “You have the shifting lines between rival groups, and just because you’re taken by a rival group that isn’t regime-aligned or ISIS-aligned doesn’t mean that they’re not going to see you as a commodity to get sold up which happens a lot in numerous of countries,” he said.
Of course there are real threats, he said, but the threats also affect those who are in desperate need of the food, sanitation kits, winterization materials, infrastructure repair material, and medical supplies that his organization provides to those who are “stuck” in of the conflict.