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.

Sudan’s decision to begin ejecting the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came 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.

The Secretary-General is currently contacting the leaders of the African Union (AU) and the League of Arab States, along with others in the region to follow up on his appeal to the Government of Sudan to reconsider its decision, according to his spokesperson.

“With some 4.7 million Sudanese – including 2.7 million internally displaced – already receiving assistance in Darfur, we are very concerned over the prospect of new population movements in the region should the fragile aid lifeline inside Sudan be disrupted,” Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said today in Geneva.

Noting that there are also 40,000 Chadian refugees in West Darfur, he said: “Our experience shows that when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance.”

Support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur keeps them as close to home as possible and relieves pressure on neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are already caring for nearly 250,000 refugees from Darfur, he explained.

These isolated camps and the remote communities surrounding them are already struggling to provide the basics needed to sustain those refugees in addition to some 180,000 IDPs in eastern Chad.

“Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources such as water,” Mr. Redmond said.

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

With such major actors as Oxfam, Care International, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, and some 6,500 staff, affected, a UN relief official said yesterday that the expulsions will cut humanitarian capabilities in Darfur by at least one half.

Among other agencies speaking out today, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said the decision could lead to the increase of mortality and morbidity due to the interruption of health services, the decline of immunization coverage and the lack of therapeutic feeding and nutrition services for children.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said its main concerns were in areas of water and sanitation, and nutrition and health. It was doing what it could to ensure that its programmes continued, whether by using NGOs whose licenses had not been revoked or new partners.

The UN Security Council is expected to hear a briefing from Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg later today on the latest developments and the humanitarian impact of the Sudanese decision.

Meanwhile, according to the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), several instances of banditry targeting the Mission’s personnel and aid groups were reported across the Darfur region. UNAMID is investigating the incidents.

The Mission said that during the last 24 hours, UNAMID military forces conducted some 35 patrols, covering 42 villages and IDP camps throughout the troubled region of western Sudan.

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