Staff accuse Médecins Sans Frontières of 'institutional racism'

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The medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières is institutionally racist and reinforces colonialism and white supremacy in its humanitarian work. The Gaurdian reports that this is according to an internal statement signed by 1,000 current and former members of staff that accused MSF of failing to acknowledge the extent of racism perpetuated by its policies, hiring practices, workplace culture and “dehumanising” programmes, run by a “privileged white minority” workforce.

Addressed to senior management and colleagues, the letter calls for an independent investigation into racism within the organisation and for urgent root and branch reform to dismantle “decades of power and paternalism”.

Signatories include Javid Abdelmoneim, chair of the board of MSF UK, Agnes Musonda, president of the board in southern Africa, and Florian Westphal, MD of MSF Germany.

Personal testimonies by signatories of the letter suggested the extent of the problem. “Trying to support a national staff [member] to apply [for a job] as an international staff [member] is the most tedious, unjust and gut-wrenchingly frustrating process I have ever endured,” said one staffer.

There was an “almost suffocating” white saviour mentality, another said, while others complained of recruitment policies that “[pushed] staff with 10 or 20 years experience to be supervised by fresh graduates”.

The report says Christos Christou, MSF’s international president, welcomed the statement as a “catalyst” to act faster on a series of changes already planned at the organisation.

MSF, one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations, which was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1999, provides emergency medical services to people in need in poorer countries and conflict zones. Last year, it employed 65,000 staff, about 90% of whom were hired locally. However, most of its operations are run by European senior managers out of five operational centres in western Europe, with only one, which opened last year in Senegal, located in the global south.

The report says in 2019, MSF received seven formal complaints of racial discrimination, of which fewer than five were confirmed following investigation. It recognised that complaints of abuse and behaviour issues, especially from locally hired staff, patients and their carers, were under-reported by the organisation.

Full report in The Guardian

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