Peace Corps Assessing Safety of Volunteers

Washington, D.C., September 20, 2001-The recent hostile events against our Nation have heightened worldwide interest in the status of the Peace Corps programs in Central Asia. The Peace Corps is continuing to monitor the political, press and public climate in countries where we have personnel and projects and is assessing all factors. Headquarters has daily conversations with the State Department, the White House and our Embassies. We are prepared to evacuate our Volunteers and staff if it becomes necessary or prudent.

In addition, the Headquarters staff has continued two daily conversations with Country Directors in all of the Central Asian countries in order to ascertain the emotional well-being of the Volunteers, offer guidance to staff and to affirm that the very stable situation at their site remains constant.

The safety and security of our Volunteers remains our guiding force. In preparation for possible crisis situations—which can develop as a complete surprise or may build slowly—each Peace Corps program has an emergency action plan specific to their country developed in cooperation with the Embassy. The plans are frequently tested and include a communication system for getting information to Volunteers rapidly and a system of actions to be taken dependant on the nature of the crisis. We have developed a series of stages beginning with:

Standfast is the first stage of alert requiring each Volunteer to be located, contacted and awaiting instructions. The Country Director and staff will review the emergency action plan and consolidation points, evaluate the resources available to support the Volunteers at the consolidation points and contact the Embassy. During this time, the Peace Corps representatives from the Region communicate with the State Department, and ensure communication between Country Director and the Director of Peace Corps.

Consolidation is the stage at which Volunteers are grouped at pre-determined locations for possible evacuation. A move to consolidation represents an appraisal that the potential for danger has escalated and an evacuation is possible. The Country Director will notify Volunteers, coordinate the medical records and needs, coordinate with the Embassy and headquarters and inform the host country officials. The region representatives coordinate the activities and hold briefings at least daily. Matters that may be addressed are:

  • making recommendations to the Director on factors which might warrant a decision to evacuate,
  • whether the State Department evaluation corresponds to and meets Peace Corps needs,
  • decisions where Volunteers will be taken if evacuated,
  • the timing and mode of transportation for the evacuation,
  • which staff will accompany and what support from headquarters may be required,
  • as well as identifying a number of other important decisions that may have to be made.
Evacuation is the departure of Volunteers from the country, usually to another Peace Corps country. The U.S. Ambassador has the authority to order a departure of all official government personnel and their families. Peace Corps Volunteers and direct hire staff are among those who are required to leave. The Peace Corps may decide to evacuate Volunteers when the Embassy has not ordered an departure, based on the judgment of its staff—as was the case when Peace Corps suspended the program in Papua New Guinea in May 2001. The Country Director will inform and evacuate the Volunteers, coordinate shipment of medical supplies and records and secure and close the office. Regional representatives are responsible for management of the evacuation efforts and communication between headquarters and the evacuating staff and making contingency plans.

Currently, the program in Turkmenistan has proceeded to the second level of alert as a cautionary m Currently, the program in Turkmenistan has proceeded to the second level of alert as a cautionary measure and to facilitate communication with the Volunteers. This second level of alert does not necessarily mean evacuation is imminent. The programs in the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh are in standfast alert. As in our programs around the world, there has been a high outpouring of sympathy and condolences expressed by host country staff, the Volunteers’ counter-parts, supervisors, and neighbors because of the tragic events here. Volunteers are firmly supported by the people with whom they work.

While there is speculation in our media about possible U.S. military retaliation in Afghanistan, which borders Turkmenistan, there is nothing to currently indicate that action would spill into Turkmenistan, and the Turkmen people have been highly supportive of our Volunteers. When the U.S. bombed Afghanistan two years ago, Peace Corps Volunteers were not the object of sudden animosity in any of the four Central Asian countries in which we serve.

The staff in every country and the staff here in Washington are watching this situation very closely to assure the safety of all Volunteers and to provide for their support. The Peace Corps Volunteers are in safe areas and are in close contact with their staff.

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