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Aid Agencies Seek Reversal of Sudanese Expulsion Order


Aid agencies in Sudan are trying to reverse an expulsion order that was announced Wednesday after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

International relief organizations have been forced to react quickly.

Just hours after the International Criminal Court in the Hague issued the arrest warrant against Sudanese President al-Bashir, the licenses of up to 10 non-governmental aid agencies were revoked and it is feared more may follow.

Aid agencies say the expulsions and the seizure of assets could have a devastating impact on the displaced in Darfur.

Oxfam's International Director, Penny Lawrence tells VOA that her organization is trying to reverse the expulsion order.

"We are temporarily relocating staff while we appeal this decision. We received a letter yesterday and we are appealing the decision to revoke our registration," Lawrence said. "Some of our assets have already been confiscated and we have temporarily, we have to sort of suspend what we are doing in Sudan. The program actually reaches about 600,000 people and it can, some elements of it can continue for a few weeks because we have trained up volunteers and local communities who can continue to distribute water and so on but after a few weeks, I am afraid it will have to close."

The Dutch and French branches of the aid group Doctors Without Borders have also been affected. Program Director Meini Nicolai says it's a terrible development for the displaced in Darfur.

"We are shocked. We are outraged. We are very concerned for the population remaining behind in southern Darfur," Nicolai said. "It is a few hundred thousand people that we were helping that remain without access to essential medical care behind it includes vaccination, hospital care and primary health care, care for wounded, mother-child and nutritional care. There is a meningitis epidemic ongoing. We have received no explanation for this expulsion of this, of our organization."

Sudanese security has begun confiscating equipment from various relief agency offices. This has compounded the problems facing them, but as Penny Lawrence says, they are all still in touch and doing their best to fight this expulsion collectively.

"We have coordination at every level imaginable but the people who are actually in Khartoum, despite having their assets taken away so their computers and their phone, are still managing to stay in touch with one another," she said. "And we have very much a unified sort of coordinated approach with the other agencies but also with the U.N. who have been incredibly supportive."

In Khartoum, senior U.N. representatives are meeting with government officials in an effort to negotiate a deal for the agencies to stay.

CARE International has operated in the country for nearly three decades. The organization's Executive Director for Development, Liz McLaughlin says if President al-Bashir refuses to change his order, then it will be up to the United Nations to boost its effort to try to cope with the huge, huge burden.

"We hope that there is a plan in the country with U.N. and the with the government themselves, somehow, maybe to reverse these positions or they have a plan to continue the work, especially the work in Darfur, working in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps and delivering food, ensuring health services continuing. We hope that the U.N. and the government have a plan in place but we can only hope at this stage," she said.

The Sudanese government accuses some groups of passing on information to the International Criminal Court.

Oxfam's Penny Lawrence rejected that allegation.

"You know, there is absolutely no link between us the ICC, Oxfam, like the other NGOs are completely independent, impartial, non-government organizations with absolutely no links at all," Lawrence said. "So while the Sudanese government may see there is a link with the decision to revoke our registration, there is absolutely no link and we have been supported in that extremely well by the U.N."

Meanwhile, workers from the targeted relief agencies are in the process of leaving. They are leaving behind hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in Darfur whose future now looks even more uncertain.

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