Europe and UK press Sudan to return seized aid

Britain and the European Commission have urged Sudan to return hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets they funded that were seized by Khartoum during a mass expulsion of humanitarian agencies.
Sudan said it had acted within regulations when it took the assets from ousted groups, and said it now had the right to re-distribute the seized funding to other humanitarian programmes as it saw fit.

Sudan expelled 13 foreign aid groups and closed three local organisations in March, after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar Hassan al- Bashir to face charges of masterminding atrocities in Darfur.

Expelled organisations, including Oxfam and two branches of Medecins Sans Frontieres, said Khartoum seized equipment, stores and cash, accusing them of passing information to the court a charge the organisations deny.

The European Commission and Britain, who are major donors to relief efforts in Sudan, told Reuters many of the seized assets were paid for by their taxpayers and had been targeted at specific programmes shut down by Khartoum.

Both organisations said they wanted the assets that they had donated back so they could choose how to redeploy them to other humanitarian projects in Sudan.

Sudan’s state minister for humanitarian affairs Abdel Baqi al-Jailani dismissed their claims as “illogical” saying he was not bound by any direct contract with the donors.
“The donors may have had specific agreements with specific NGOs (non-governmental organisations or aid groups). But I had nothing to do with those agreements.
“According to our law, if an NGO is expelled its assets should be redistributed to other NGOs working in the field. They (the donors) don’t have the right to control the assets.”

Sensitive time

The demands come at a sensitive time for Sudan which is trying to improve relations with the West, in a bid to get crippling trade sanctions from Washington lifted or relaxed.
“It is estimated that around £500,000 ($820,000) (R6 million) of British-funded goods were included in the seizures,” a spokesperson for Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) told Reuters in an email.
“We have made it clear to the Sudanese government that all seized goods must be returned and are now discussing how best to reassign these assets to ongoing humanitarian efforts.”

The Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (ECHO) told Reuters it was still calculating how much of its funding was taken in the expulsions.
“The European Commission continues to draw the attention of the Sudanese authorities to the fact that assets seized have been funded by the European taxpayer to whom the Commission is accountable,” said Commission spokesman John Clancy.
“ECHO is urging that the assets be returned so that they can be put to their intended use in relieving suffering in Darfur.”

Clancy said the expelled aid organisations funded by ECHO included Solidarites and Action Contre la Faim from France, Oxfam from the UK and CARE and the International Rescue Committee from the United States.

Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres’ operations in Holland and France told Reuters in August that Sudan’s government had taken about $5.2 million (R39.2 million) of their assets and more than $9 million (R67 million) in enforced payments to local staff who lost their jobs because of the government shut-down.

Aid workers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were concerned Sudan might redistribute their assets to organisations without the necessary experience or adherence to international humanitarian principles.

The March expulsions hit humanitarian efforts across northern Sudan, particularly in Darfur and the tense border regions of Southern Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile. Projects in Sudan’s mostly Christian south were not affected.

Pic: Sudan area