Darfur: UN working to reverse expulsions while planning to fill vital aid gaps

9 March 2009

The United Nation’s top humanitarian official said today that the world organization continues to strive at all levels to reverse the ordered departure of 13 major aid groups from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

At the same time planning is also on-going to cover gaps opened by the expulsions in live-saving assistance that 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced persons – depend on, according to UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes.

Sudan's decision to begin ejecting the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came on Wednesday, immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

UN humanitarian agencies immediately warned that aid capability could be slashed by half, since the decision affected such major actors as Oxfam, Care International, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, along with some 7,000 staff out of a total of some 14,000 in the troubled region.

“We have been in touch with the Government of Sudan, at many levels, and indeed with many other key players over the weekend,” Mr. Holmes told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, adding that the NGOs had been advised to exercise their right of appeal against the decision.

He said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been calling stakeholders and that possibilities include a conversation between him and Mr. Al-Bashir “at the right moment.”

Neither the UN nor the Government, he warned, had the capacity to fill all the gaps left by the departing organizations, who worked in partnership with the world organization on the ground.

The most urgent short-term gaps were in the areas of water and sanitation and health services, and joint assessments would be pursued tomorrow with the Government to see how these holes could be filled in the short-term.

There were already concerns that a meningitis outbreak in Kalma Camp in South Darfur will spread if not addressed through immediate large-scale inoculation, he said.

Mr. Holmes added that he also remained concerned at the manner in which the Government’s decision was being carried out, including intimidation of NGO staff members and the confiscation of property such as automobiles and computers, some of which belonged to the UN.

In one case, warehouses full of food supplied to the NGOs for distribution by the World Food Organization (WFP) were being held, he said.

“This is not in line with the agreement the agreements we have with the Government of Sudan, nor indeed with the any of the normal tenets of behaviour in these kinds of circumstances,” he emphasized.

“We’ve taken up these issues very strongly with the Government and we hope this kind of behaviour will not stop, and that even if the decision itself is not reversed, which we certainly hope it will be,” he said.

The UN system would support both the expelled groups and those who remained in every practical way, Mr. Holmes said.

“Not only are we trying to deal with the issue of those NGOs whose registrations have been revoked, but also with the NGOs who remain and are legitimately asking questions how long they will be able to remain and how far they will be able to operate in a normal and safe manner.”

An estimated 300,000 people have died and another 3 million have been displaced in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.


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Expulsion of aid groups from Darfur will have wide impact, UN agencies warn

Adding their voices to the deep concern expressed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the ordered departure of at least 13 aid organizations from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, UN humanitarian agencies warned today that the effects could shake the region.