March 5, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – Aid organizations expelled from Darfur and other areas in northern Sudan appealed for the government to reverse its decision as Western diplomats also stepped in to plead their case.
As the International Criminal Court announced its arrest warrant against the Sudanese president, Sudan ordered many foreign aid operations to leave the country, including Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Care International, CHF International, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps, both the French and Dutch branches of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam GB, Solidarite, PATCO and Save the Children Fund of both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Roughly 6,500 national and international personnel, which equates to 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur, are departing in the wake of the Sudan government’s decision, according to the United Nations.
MSF-France responded in a statement today that it “protests this decision with utmost vigour.”
“The sudden halt of our medical programs, including surgical, nutritional and primary health care in a large part of the territory of Darfur, will have an immediate and devastating effect on the populations,” said MSF-France.
Another humanitarian group operating in Darfur, Oxfam GB, has about 400 staff of which 25 are international. The major component of their programme was to provide water and sanitation in the camps by drilling wells, constructing latrines and washing facilities and distributing soap, jerrycans and other items like blankets.
The agency’s contingency operation is currently in effect, whereby the operation runs using trained local volunteers.
“In theory the water and sanitation operation should keep running but this is a short-term solution,” said Alan McDonald, an aid official with Oxfam GB with nearly three years experience in the Sudan. Without professional engineers to run the operation it could last for only several weeks, he said by phone from Nairobi.
After Sudan withdrew the license for Oxfam GB, the organization began to temporarily relocate international staff to Khartoum. Most are already there or in transit and some national staff are moving to state capitals in Darfur while Oxfam appeals the government’s decision to revoke its registration.
Oxfam’s operations in northern Sudan benefit some 600,000 people, 400,000 of whom are in Darfur and the rest in Khartoum and Red Sea state by the Eritrean border.
Government officials acting on orders have entered aid agency compounds and taken property from the NGOs. Mainly the seizures were aimed only at laptops and communications equipment, but hypothetically all of the aid materials in the logistical pipeline could be affected by the order.
The eviction order will be contested under Sudanese law as part of a 30 day appeal process.
Another course of appeal is being made through Western diplomats who are working to convince Sudan to overturn the order. The US Charge d’Affaires in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, has been meeting with Government of Sudan officials, United Nations representatives and the diplomatic community in Khartoum on this issue, said a diplomat.
State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said of the move against the aid agencies, “The action was announced — and it’s unclear whether it was announced by the government or the particular commission that oversees the aid groups in Sudan — seems to me to be against Sudan’s own interest, and is certainly not helpful to the people who need aid in the country. They should reconsider their position on this, because the vulnerable populations throughout Sudan rely heavily on international organizations who deliver them much needed aid.”
Meanwhile, the Dutch ambassador to Sudan, Norbert Braakhuis, ordered all nationals to report to the embassy, most of whom are aid workers anyway.
Likewise, the Norwegian Refugee Council announced this morning that all of its staff would leave the capital and its area of operations in Kordofan by the end of the day, as ordered by the government.
“We will address an appeal to the Governement of Sudan and urge them to reverse this decision,” said the head of the Norwegian agency, Elisabeth Rasmusson. Additionally, the Norwegian government has clearly conveyed its concerns on the matter to Sudan, said a diplomat.
There are about 2.5 million internally displaced persons in Darfur. The UN continues to operate its programmes in Darfur, but some of its implementing partners are among the evicted agencies. According to a statement today from the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, 4.7 million people receive aid in Darfur.