Harassed and at risk: the plight of humanitarian aid in northern Sudan

The Dutch and French sections of Médecins Sans Frontières reiterate their grave concern for the patients left behind in Darfur and denounce the unacceptable conditions of their expulsion.

The issuing of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for President al-Bashir was followed immediately by the expulsion of 13 humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) providing roughly 40% of the humanitarian assistance in the region. Major gains made by humanitarian organisations in the past five years in stabilizing the health status of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians could be reversed and plunge the region back into an acute emergency.

Working in Sudan has been complicated for many years, but despite increasing government imposed restrictions, MSF was still able to provide meaningful medical aid based on the needs of the people. Following the expulsion the danger is imminent that aid will be delivered as a result of political agendas rather than based on the independent assessment of needs. Some places may receive no or insufficient aid.

After all the efforts in bringing aid to the people of Darfur, the Government of Sudan falsely accused the expelled MSF sections of collaborating with the International Criminal Court, which is categorically untrue. Bank accounts were frozen, access to offices denied, and vehicles, computers and office equipment with an estimated value over one million euro were seized. Anti-NGO rhetoric by the Sudanese government in the past weeks has created an overall climate of hostility, causing an elevated risk to the safety of aid actors in Darfur, as exemplified by cases of kidnapping of NGO staff members in the past month.

The immediate expulsion did not even allow organizations to close programmes properly. Activities addressing an outbreak of meningitis were forced to an abrupt stop, visits to project locations were forbidden, while staff was burdened for six weeks with managing the aftermath of the expulsion. The seizure of the passports of our three remaining senior staff until a few hours before their departure effectively put them in a hostage situation.

"It felt like we were treated like criminals. We were constantly torn between concern for the patients and staff we were forced to leave abruptly behind and anger at the expulsion order. It is shocking to experience such disrespect for the medical needs of vulnerable people and to be treated like this, after thirty years of providing assistance in Northern Sudan." Country Director Sudan, Reshma Adatia.

Six weeks after the expulsion, all of the international staff of the Dutch and French sections were finally allowed to leave Sudan. It is only now possible to explain how difficult the process of the expulsion was. We are gravely concerned for the fate of the people now left without assistance, the security of our Sudanese staff and are outraged at the current situation. We remain ready and willing to mobilize to provide emergency assistance if the necessary conditions for the provision of independent, neutral and impartial assistance are re-established.

MSF has been working in Sudan since 1979 and has carried out vital assistance in many different regions of North Sudan. Since 2003, MSF has worked in Darfur treating more than three million outpatients, 60,000 inpatients, gave 225,000 ante-natal care consultations, delivered 10,000 babies, performed 12,000 surgeries and provided mental health care for 20,000 people. Today, six other MSF projects continue to remain open in northern Sudan, although their future is under careful review and depends on a clear improvement in the working environment in the coming weeks.