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Dodging the gangsters' bullets


The shooting of a United Nations engineer in Albania has highlighted the security risks facing aid workers. Matthew Jones finds RedR taking a lead in security awareness.

Two weeks ago United Nations water and sanitation engineer Daniel Mora-Castro was shot in the head in an attempted car-jacking incident on the outskirts of the Albanian capital Tirana. He was lucky to survive. His attackers were not Serbian soldiers but Albanian criminals who target the high-powered four-wheel drive vehicles used by aid workers.

Mora-Castro made two simple mistakes which any foreigner to Albania could have made. The first was to get caught out on the road late at night in the Tirana outskirts. The second was to have been wearing a seat belt. When his attackers ordered him out of his jeep he had to reach to take the belt off. The hijackers thought he was reaching for a gun so they shot him.

RedR - Engineers for Disaster Relief - was in Tirana this week to run a three day course on security management. Its aim is to raise awareness of the security dangers facing aid workers unaccustomed to Albania.

It is an unusual role for the engineering charity which operates out of the ICE headquarters in Great George Street, but it is one which is welcomed by International Rescue Committee health co-ordinator David Bradt.

Last week, the IRC's office in central Tirana was held up by three gunmen. Although no-one was hurt, the raiders got away with a considerable amount of money which should have been directed to Kosovan refugees.

'I signed up for the course half an hour before the gunmen burst in,' says Bradt. 'I think there is a real need for this sort of training.'

RedR's involvement in security management grew out of a need to teach its engineers what to do if they are attacked.

After gaining funding from the Department for International Development, the US government and Cable & Wireless, the charity has developed the course and is providing a vital service to the international aid community.

'What we have done is to provide a forum for non-governmental organisations to come together and focus on security concerns,' says RedR trainer Jan Davis.

'This fits into our mission as an organisation because our objective is to improve the effectiveness of emergency relief.'

Although Albania has a history of public disorder and gang violence in the last 10 years, course facilitator Koenraad Van Brabant from the Overseas Development Institute says security problems in Albania should not be exaggerated. However, he insists that engineers and other aid workers should be alert to potential problems and be aware of what can be done to limit the risks.

'Two days ago, I heard some people say that the security situation seems to be improving in Albania. But more refugees are entering the country from Macedonia and moving towards the traditionally volatile areas in the south.

'Potentially there are a number of scenarios where unrest could occur.'

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