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May 8, 2009
Sudan to allow new aid groups into Darfur

Past aid distribution in Darfur. Photo: United Nations

Sudan has agreed to allow aid agencies to return to the violence-ridden Darfur region, a move that received praise from the United Nations.

However, Sudan’s minister of humanitarian affairs said the 13 aid agencies that were expelled in March — after the International Criminal Court ordered the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir — will not be allowed back.

Rob Crilly is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi who has written for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor. Crilly’s blog “African Safari” appears on the blog network “From the Frontline,” where he criticizes the arrangment.

Aiding and Abetting Khartoum

So you are an NGO recently expelled from Darfur. Over the years the government in Khartoum restricted your operations in the field, kicked out your country director and a security officer, whom the regime accused of being a Mossad agent. Then, just when you are wondering how you can ever actually help the millions of people that depend on your aid, the government expels you altogether. Overnight your operation is shut down, cars impounded and computers seized. Hundreds of Sudanese staff lose their jobs at a stroke and your international workers are treated as criminals as they are put on flights out.

Not all your staff can leave though. One or two have to stay behind to shut things down and help the government take all the good bits of kit. The government also demands you pay six months wages to the local staff. It is made crystal clear that the internationals left behind will not be allowed to leave until millions of dollars in “severance pay” is handed to the government. The internationals are effectively hostages held for ransom. They have at least got their passports back – but no exit visa. They are trapped.

Would you, given these circumstances, ever consider returning to a country that has done all this? Particularly if the deal essentially involved you changing your name thus admitting that you were at fault? Would you want to scale all your operations back up, invest millions of dollars, knowing that Khartoum can kick you out again whenever they fancy?

This is essentially the position Care, and three other American agencies find themselves in. I understand that the IRC, Oxfam and MSF have heard that they will never again be welcome in Sudan. (In some ways that is to the agencies’ credit). But the other agencies have got Scott Gration, Barack Obama’s new Sudan envoy, to thank for one of the most pathetic, weakminded deals I have ever encountered.

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