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MSF accused by staff of upholding white supremacy and colonialism

At least 1,000 former and current employees sign internal statement calling Medecins Sans Frontieres 'institutionally racist'
Despite 90 percent of its staff being hired locally, most of its operations are run by European senior managers from one of its five operation centres in western Europe (AFP)

The medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres has been accused of propping up white supremacy and colonialism, according to an internal statement signed by at least 1,000 current and former employees of the organisation.

The statement accused MSF of failing to recognise the racism it perpetuated by its policies and how its workplace culture contributed towards propping up the "privileged white minority" within the organisation.

The statement called for an independent investigation into racism within the organisation and calls to address "decades of power and paternalism".

'Change requires brave and bold leadership and it requires a lot of 'do-gooding' white people with power to get out of the way'

- Shaista Aziz, MSF aid worker

Prominent signatories of the statement include Agnes Musonda, president of the board in southern Africa, Florian Westphal, managing director of MSF Germany, and Javid Abdelmoneim, chair of the board at MSF UK. 

Former MSF aid worker Shaista Aziz described the statement as a "moment of reckoning that is massively overdue".

Speaking to the Guardian, Aziz said: "Change requires brave and bold leadership and it requires a lot of 'do-gooding' white people with power to get out of the way".

This statement came after intense internal debate within the organisation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Staff within the organisation were particularly concerned, according to the Guardian, by a statement released by MSF Italy which suggested it should not use the term "racism" and that everyone should discuss "all lives matter".

MSF is one of the world's largest humanitarian organisations, providing medical services to people in poor countries and conflict zones across the world. Its staff work in some of the most dangerous and difficult conditions in the world, and aid people in conflict-afflicted countries such as Syria and Yemen.

Despite 90 percent of its staff being hired locally, most of its operations are run by European senior managers from one of its five operation centres in western Europe, with only one centre, opened last year in Senegal, run from the global South. 

Christos Christou, MSF's international president, welcomed the statement and described it as a "catalyst" for reforms planned for the organisation. 

"I look at this as an opportunity that has come through a tragic event that triggered rage and discussion within our movement," said Christou. 

“Our priority is to shift the decision-making closer to where the needs are, and involving the patients and community in designing strategies of intervention. To shrink the decision-making power of Europe and redistribute it to the rest of the world.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.