11 June 2009 An immediate crisis has been averted in Darfur following the March expulsion of over one dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but the humanitarian gaps left in the wake of their ouster must be filled to help the people in the war-torn Sudanese region, the top United Nations relief official said today.
In early March, Khartoum kicked out 13 international NGOs and revoked the permits of three local groups providing emergency relief assistance in Darfur after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the region.
Addressing the Security Council today, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said that the UN continues to believe that the ejections “were wrong and unjustified” and also regrets “the increased dangers created for hundreds of thousands of people in need in Darfur and elsewhere.”
In the “difficult” weeks after the expulsions, there were many reports of violence targeting NGOs and a negative media campaign against the groups, putting both agencies and individuals at increased risk, he said.
Positive steps have been taken since then, noted Mr. Holmes, who visited the area last month, with the Government signalling that assistance from international NGOs is both welcome and valued.
Authorities have also “said publicly and privately that not only remaining NGOs, but also new NGOs, including NGOs with new names and new logos, are welcome,” he said.
Four of the agencies booted from Darfur in March – CARE, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and PADCO – have completed their initial registration process in Khartoum, Mr. Holmes told reporters after the meeting.
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that he stressed to the Government, during his visit, the need to implement aid agreements to ensure there are concrete improvements on the ground for the 4.7 million relief beneficiaries in Darfur, over half of whom are displaced.
In spite of Khartoum’s call for the “Sudanization” of humanitarian work, it has “made clear that ‘Sudanization’ does not and will not entail the disappearance of international aid organizations,” he said.
Notwithstanding these strides in preventing an immediate crisis, Mr. Holmes underscored that “they have not replaced, and cannot easily or rapidly replace, the capacity and skills lost,” with current assistance levels well below what is necessary.
The gaps will be further exacerbated by the onset of the rainy season, and areas such as education, reproductive health and livelihood assistance have also taken a hit due to the NGOs’ expulsions, he said.
Also worrying is the impact of the ejections on the Three Protocol Areas and eastern Sudan, “where the expelled NGOs played critical roles in the provision of life-saving humanitarian, recovery and development assistance.”
Regarding Southern Sudan, Mr. Holmes told the Council that he was shocked at both the “unprecedently destructive” violence and high humanitarian toll of the tribal violence in Jonglei state.
Also provoking problems in the region is the renewed presence of the notorious Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), he said, with as many as 100,000 people in Sudan having been displaced by clashes.
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