Increased Violence Against International Aid Workers Raises Need for International Health and Life Insurance that Covers Terrorism, Kidnap and Ransom

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Good Neighbor Insurance finds that workers overseas want insurance policies that cover terrorism, kidnap and ransom. While there is no guarantee against violence for international aid workers, careful contingency planning, deployment of crisis response teams and purchase of proper international health and life insurance can and will buffer the extent of damage and loss.

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Aid workers almost always work and live in crisis situations

Good Neighbor Insurance is following closely the upsurge in violence against international aid workers. Last year was the deadliest year on record for foreign aid workers. Worldwide, 260 humanitarian workers were attacked in 155 serious incidents in 2008, compared with 27 incidents just ten years ago. The fatality rate of 122 aid workers for 2008 exceeds that of UN peacekeepers. Though these acts of terror occurred in 25 countries, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia create most of the violence, followed closely by Pakistan, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, and Congo. The violence parallels the desperate conditions of these countries, where the needs are the greatest.

Where the need is greatest, the risk is also great. "Aid workers almost always work and live in crisis situations," says Jeff Gulleson, President of Good Neighbor Insurance that helps insure thousands of short and long term international humanitarian workers and missionaries. "We personally know many who are benefiting from insurance policies that now offer terrorism as well as kidnap and ransom benefits to their international health and travel insurance."

Aid workers can become irresistible targets for kidnapping. Gracia and Martin Burnham, humanitarian workers in the Philippines, experienced the brutality of an extreme Islamic group who abducted and detained them for almost one year in rugged Philippine jungles. "The entire group of fifteen or so captors began to pump their fists in the air as they chorused in unison, Allah akbar! ("Allah is the greatest!"). Instantly we knew who we were dealing with: the dreaded Abu Sayyaf. They were the only ones with the audacity to do something like this," says Gracia.

In her book, In the Presence of My Enemies, Gracia describes her ordeal and the attempts made by the Philippine army to rescue them and one Pilipino nurse. In the last encounter, the Philippine army successfully countered the Islamic group. Unfortunately both Martin and the nurse were killed in the cross fire.Gracia was wounded and had to be evacuated home where she was reunited with her three young children.

Gulleson explains the three levels of crisis these workers face. The first is chronic crisis, a persistent and lasting condition that has developed slowly. The stress on Aid workers is imperceptible at this level, for its effects often go unrecognized. The second level is predictable crisis, a condition that occurs after an observation, scientific reason or experience. Knowing this, Aid workers can be prepared to confront the crisis through careful contingency planning. The third level is sudden crisis, a condition that comes unexpectedly and all at once, such as an act of terrorism. "Though the crisis hits without warning, there are things that Aid workers -- and the organizations that send them -- can do to prepare and protect themselves in cases of non-war related terrorism and kidnapping," says Gulleson.

While there is no guarantee against being a victim of a terrorist attack, Good Neighbor urges careful planning that can mitigate some of the losses.

Insist on Contingency Planning. Every aid worker must have on file contact information and back-up plans with their organization’s international and local headquarters. Possible scenarios are thought of ahead of time, and all aid workers are held responsible to follow through on crisis response procedures.

Gracia admits that though she had contingency planning training prior to leaving for the Philippines, she had not really been paying attention. "Kidnapping was something that happened to other people, not to us."

Consult with Crisis and Emergency Response Teams. Crisis response teams assess the situation, deploy their officers, work with the organization on the ground, and open channels of communication. Maintaining up-to-the minute communication with government officials, liaison officers, and family members is complicated and best done by professionals with experience in this area.

These professionals can be trained members of your own organization, or others whom you contract with. Don’t underestimate the power of your own members to form the first crisis response team. They know the people and are familiar with your policies and what is happening on the ground. Contracting to outsiders is often necessary when government and military officials and ransom demands are involved.

Register with the State Department. All foreign workers should register with the local US embassy or consulate, regardless of how long they plan to be in the country. The State Department offers a page on their website for travelers to register their trip abroad. Their travel section is loaded with vital information on crisis preparedness and protocol for emergency assistance to American citizens abroad.    

Insure Aid Workers with International Health, Travel and Life Insurance. Pei Medill, an insurance broker with Good Neighbor, confirmed that insurance companies exclude coverage for war or terrorist incidences related to war. Pei continues, "Despite lack of insurance for war related incidences, nevertheless international aid workers are able to increase protection to themselves and family members through several factors."

First, notify your insurance broker about the nature and duration of your trip. Some insurance plans will cover terrorist related injuries if the act was not precipitated by an act of war. These terrorism benefits will cover international aid workers for unlimited overseas trips as long as each trip does not exceed 70 days.

Second, add term life insurance. In the event of death, term life insurance relieves the immediate financial burdens of the deceased’s family members.

Third, get international health insurance that covers kidnap and ransom, political evacuation, and repatriation of remains. Also, make sure that the policy covers emergency reunion (when a family or friend is flown to be with the victim), and returning minor children to their home country.

About Good Neighbor Insurance:

Jeff Gulleson established Good Neighbor Insurance in 1997, to provide global health and life insurance services after living for 30 years in Indonesia.

GNI helps clients find good, cost-effective international health, travel, and life insurance while providing caring service based on integrity. The company serves students traveling overseas, short-term teams, aid organizations, foreign and domestic corporations, universities, and volunteers both from the U.S. and abroad.

GNI’s website at has more information as well as a guide to medical advice for overseas travelers, written by Jon Askew, MD.


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Doug Gulleson
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