Khalil Dale: Aid worker who spent his career in the world's trouble spots
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Tuesday 22 May 2012
Khalil Dale was an English aid worker who for decades devoted himself to humanitarian work in some of the world's most dangerous trouble spots before meeting a brutal death in a Pakistan border town. He was abducted by armed men in January; his body was found on 29 April. His killers coldly explained that they had killed him because their demands for a ransom had not been met.
His agency, the Red Cross, was inundated by messages expressing shock and horror that such a dedicated individual should have been killed in such a manner. His family said: "We do not wish to see the inhumanity and brutality of his death debase the memories we have of Khalil. Without question, Khalil was amongst the most gentle, most kind and most loving persons we have ever known. We pity those who took his life. He achieved much in this world. His life was one of love, not hatred. His life was one of beauty and joy."
A friend described him as "such a slight, gentle, compassionate, tolerant man," though possessing inner steel. An unusual feature of his life was that while working in Kenya in 1981 he converted to Islam, from then on praying five times a day. A friend said he had not previously been a religious person, but noted that religion gave comfort to people in desperate circumstances.
Khalil Rasjed Dale was born Kenneth Robin Dale in York, and was brought up in Manchester. Like his mother he became a nurse, working in Scotland, Iran and on a North Sea oil-rig. Then, in his late 30s, he attended the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. His friend, the journalist Nick Harris, recalled "graduation night 1992 – on the rooftop of the ramshackle house on Farringdon Road where I was a lodger for that summer, lying on our backs, smoking, laughing – his giggle was infectious."
Joining the Red Cross, Dale went on to spend much of his life in war zones and famine regions where bandits carrying Kalashnikov rifles were often part of the landscape. These included Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. In Sudan he travelled round on two camels, which he called Kipling and Paddington, overseeing food distribution and healthcare.
The worst situation he had to cope with was Somalia, where in one town food shortages and disease were killing 300 people daily. He later recounted: "I was the first one to get in, and I was overwhelmed. I'd never seen anything like it. There were bodies – people who had died of starvation, people with gunshot wounds, young children, women, just lying, waiting to die, really emaciated. And there weren't any nurses, doctors, there was nothing. The whole infrastructure collapsed and they were just people who had given up hope.
"I got 98 people as gravediggers just to collect dead bodies. There would be mounds of dead bodies waiting to be buried. People were driving round in cars with machine-guns. I've been to a lot of war zones and famine camps and cholera camps but it was certainly the most frightening place for me." He received an MBE for his work.
In 1998 he returned to Britain for some years to care for his terminally ill mother, working as a nurse and for Turning Point Scotland, a charity dealing with alcohol addiction and problems associated with drugs and mental health. His final assignment, which he took up a year ago, was to Pakistan on a Red Cross programme for the healthcare and the physical rehabilitation of those wounded in the conflict there.
In January he was taken from a Red Cross vehicle in the town of Quetta. Contact was made with his abductors a number of times as the Red Cross and British government attempted to secure his release. While some reports suggested he had been taken by the Pakistani wing of the Taliban, the group did not admit involvement.
Quetta, the main town of the violent Baluchistan province, borders Iran and Afghanistan. It is home to the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council, and is believed to direct a considerable portion of Taliban actions. Separatist militants are also active, staging a protracted insurgency. Recent months have seen an increase in kidnappings, many said to be the work of criminal gangs who may hand on those abducted to insurgents or Islamic militants.
Dale's body was found in an apple orchard in Quetta. A Red Cross spokes-man, Sean Maguire, said: "We did everything possible to try to get Khalil out and we're very sad that our efforts failed." The organisation would now, he added, "take stock and review what we should be doing, and what the risk-benefit balance is of operating in different parts of Pakistan."
The Prime Minister David Cameron said of Dale: "He was killed whilst providing humanitarian support to others. This was a shocking and merciless act, carried out by people with no respect for human life and the rule of law."
A friend and former colleague Sheila Howat, who knew him for 25 years, said: "It's unbelievable what they've done to Ken. It's soul-destroying. For someone who has given their life, devoted their life, to caring for others – it's just so wrong. Ken was an absolutely lovely person who saw good in everybody. He wanted to make the world a better place for people who had nothing. This is why he went to all the war-torn countries, to try to make things better, particularly for the children. He knew the risks. He was quite aware of them."
Dale was due to marry Anne, a nurse he met almost 20 years ago.
Kenneth Robin Dale (Khalil Rasjed Dale), aid worker and nurse: born York 29August 1951; MBE; found dead inPakistan 29 April 2012.
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