Sudan says it will “not close the door” to foreign aid organisations that want to operate in the largest country in Africa but a decision to expel 13 international NGOs is non-negotiable.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled those aid groups after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in March on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. Sudan accused the aid groups of helping build the charges against Bashir, Reuters adds.
“For the expelled 13 NGOs, this is history. It’s finished. But this decision … does not close the door for any new NGOs — American, British, French … with new names, with new logos,” said Hassabo Mohamed Abd el-Rahman, the head of Sudan’s state Humanitarian Aid Commission.
“Any new NGOs that fulfil the criteria are most welcome,” he told reporters at the airport after welcoming UN humanitarian chief John Holmes to Sudan on Wednesday. “I can assure you that there are many applications being processed.”
“We’re working on the capacity-building of national NGOs, the Sudanisation… Sudanisation does not mean that we close the door for foreign aid,” Abd el-Rahman said.
Some 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid in Darfur. The UN’s NGO partners gave out out food aid, monitored for disease outbreaks and provided clean water and health care across the area which is roughly the size of France.
Sudan has said Sudanese groups have been filling the gaps left by the expelled groups and there is no problem with aid distribution.
Holmes said the expulsion had left “serious capacity gaps”.
“Clearly there were gaps left when the NGOs were expelled… we have been trying to fill those most critical life-saving gaps but we know we’ve not been able to do that on a full basis.”
Holmes, who will be travelling to southern Sudan and Darfur during his visit, said the solution would be for the expelled NGOs to be allowed to return.
“Our position from the beginning is that the best way out of this problem is to reverse the decision and let back in the NGOs that were expelled… if there are ways in which gradually over time some, or all, of them can be allowed back in to work that’s something
I’d very much welcome,” Holmes said.
“That’s something we’ll be discussing in the next few days.”
He said that while some progress had been made with the government, there was “still some way to go yet”.
In New York, a senior Western diplomat said US special envoy Scott Gration, who arrived in the Sudanese capital on Wednesday, has been working to persuade Khartoum to let the expelled NGOs back into Darfur.
The diplomat said the Sudanese had indicated that some or all of the NGOs would probably be allowed back into Sudan, though they would have to do so by forming a partnership with a local Sudanese partner. Other diplomats confirmed this.
Before the expulsions the United Nations and aid groups were running the world’s largest humanitarian operation in Darfur.
UN officials say as many as 300 000 people have died and more than 2.7 million driven from their homes in almost six years of ethnic and political violence. Khartoum says 10 000 have died.