International NGO Safety Organisation
Aid organisations must adopt a context-sensitive and data-driven approach to mitigate the threat of abductions and keep staff safe while continuing aid delivery, says a new report by the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO).

The INSO Snapshot – Abductions of NGO Staff report, released to coincide with World Humanitarian Day, analyses INSO’s own verified data from 14 of its country platforms.


INSO recorded 416 abduction incidents involving non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from January 2018 to June 2022. In total, these incidents affected 747 aid workers. There were 219 incidents where those involved were confined for questioning, as well as 97 kidnappings involving ransoms or other demands and 100 unresolved cases. Of the total number, 98% of abductions involved national staff, with the remainder being expatriates. This reflects relative group sizes and the reality that national staff often deliver services directly to communities.


“Abductions are a major concern for NGOs, and for good reason. However, the impact of these incidents varies greatly depending on the context and perpetrator. NGOs need to understand this if they want to optimise risk management in a way that enables them to effectively deliver aid while still protecting their staff,” says Michael Walker, INSO Director of Analysis & Research.


Michael continues: “What we see is national staff making up the majority of abduction cases. Organisations need to exercise their duty of care equitably, acknowledging the dangers faced by all their employees. This might mean providing additional advice to national staff for off-duty travel, or improved ways of tracking and communicating with staff while on the move.”


Just four countries – Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali – account for 75% of the 416 incidents. The Sahel has seen the most dramatic rise in abductions over the last two years, as armed groups across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger now routinely detain and question staff for several hours or even days. Mali recorded the highest number of NGO abductions of any country covered by INSO in 2021 and so far in 2022.


“NGOs in Mali are increasingly affected by short-term abductions by armed groups aiming to verify the individual’s identity and purpose. These situations are usually resolved without physical harm, but they cause significant stress for those involved, their colleagues and families. We are advising NGOs to adopt precautionary measures and maintain a thorough understanding of the context, while helping to guide them in managing these events. It is encouraging to see that NGOs are adapting – not limiting – their operations to these dynamics,” says Etienne Malingrey, INSO’s country director in Mali.


The report reveals that while most abductions were perpetrated by organised armed groups, criminals were more likely to carry out higher-impact kidnappings. Criminals were responsible for higher proportions of abductions in DRC and South Sudan. Abduction, therefore, represents a more severe threat in these contexts.


Data analysed in this report is hosted on INSO’s Conflict & Humanitarian Data Centre, also accessible to INSO’s partners. INSO Snapshot – Abductions of NGO Staff, along with a selection of INSO’s quarterly, monthly and special reports, can be viewed here.


INSO is grateful for the support of its donors: The European Commission (ECHO), USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Global Affairs Canada, Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Le Gouvernement du Grand-Duché du Luxembourg and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).