The fortunes of at least 2.5 million Sudanese
may be at added risk due to yesterday's expulsion order by the Khartoum
government of major foreign-based aid agencies. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said that between
six and ten nongovernmental groups (NGOs), who conduct some of their rescue
operations in the western Darfur region, received notice just hours after an
arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court against President
Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Executive
director for development Liz McLaughlin spent the past four years as CARE's
assistant country director in Sudan. She says the agency's only objective
is to continue giving the 460-thousand beneficiaries of its agriculture,
health, education and life-saving projects access to the help they so
hope that the situation is reversed so that we can continue to operate there
because our main objective, of course, is to reach the beneficiaries, and our
concern, apart from our staff, is to make sure our beneficiaries continue
receiving help from CARE and other NGOs," she said.
has operated in several regions of Sudan, Africa's largest country, for 28
years, for the past six years alone with a staff of 350 in Darfur and
neighboring Chad. Altogether, 650 CARE
employees fulfill humanitarian needs of Sudanese who live in North and South
Kordofan states in the center of the country and in the capital, Khartoum, in
addition to Darfur and in eastern Chad where emergency relief is being carried
out. McLaughlin says that CARE is
excercizing sound security policies to protect its workers, most of whom are
have excellent staff security measures in place, and like every other NGO, it's
our prime concern to make sure staffers are all okay, and today they are. We can say that all of our staff are
safe. They are following all our
procedures," she noted.
no final decision has yet been reached on what needs to be done, whether to
evacuate or bolster protective services in the hope that UN or other outside
mediation can convince the Bashir government to rescind its expulsion order
from northern Sudan. CARE's Liz
McLaughlin says the country director's office has the discretion to make the
final call, both in authorizing last-ditch efforts to change government
officials mind or enlist UN negotiators' to weigh in with Khartoum, or to
abandon the country.
have full authority. Staff safety comes
first, and they are on the ground," she points out.
describes her aid group's relations with Khartoum as "reasonably good," with
CARE never having to abandon any aid programs it had initiated throughout the
country. She rejects reports of aid
agency involvement with political fight being waged against President Bashir
and says that CARE only speaks out on the humanitarian concerns involving the
civilian population. Sudanese officials
have in the past accused Darfur aid groups of giving evidence to the
international court's special prosecutor to further the case against
Bashir. The NGOs deny the charge.
UN and aid agencies oversee the world's largest humanitarian operation in
Darfur for its 2.5 million people displaced by the six-year conflict. Within minutes of Wednesday's ruling by the
ICC that found Sudan's 20-year leader guilty on two counts of war crimes and
five counts of crimes against humanity, Sudanese officials revoked aid groups'
operating licenses, told them to list their assets, which they designated as
subject to seizure, and ordered them to leave northern Sudan immediately. The action prompted UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-Moon to declare it a "serious setback," and he urged Khartoum to restore
full operating capacity to all NGOs.
the lead-up to Wednesday's indictment,
Khartoum, as well as several Arab nations and countries in the African
Union warned that a warrant against Bashir, which is expected to limit his
international travel and possibly curb Sudan's participation in world and
regional conferences and activities, would do more to destabilize Sudan than
the conflicts that are already crippling the country. Liz McLaughlin says that in the absence of
NGOs, the UN may be the institution tasked with picking up the pieces.
"We hope that there's a plan in the country
with UN and 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 camps (internally displaced persons) and delivering
food, ensuring health services continuing.
We hope that the UN and the government have a plan in place but we can
only hope at this stage," McLaughlin maintained.
The ten NGOs ordered to leave include
CARE, the British charity OXFAM, MSF-Holland (Doctors without Borders), Mercy
Corps, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International
Rescue Committee, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarites, and CHF International.