SUDAN WATCH: Expelled NGOs must refuse to return

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Expelled NGOs must refuse to return

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.

gration.jpg

I was always concerned about the choice of a military man as envoy to a country known for its ability to run rings around diplomats. The choice seemed to reinforce Save Darfur's analysis of the problem, that military solutions - peacekeepers, no-fly zones and so on - where the way to rein in Khartoum's

war machine. Ending the conflict is going to take some tough negotiation but I was prepared to give Gration the benefit of the doubt.
 
This shabby deal suggests he is not up to the job.
 
Pals who have worked in Sudan tell me some head offices are keen to return. Darfur generates cash and profile for aid agencies. Returning though would hand Khartoum a propaganda victory and send a signal that the government can mistreat aid agencies with impunity (not for the first time). 
 
It is time for both the United Nations and the NGOs to show some spine and refuse to return. That is a desperately difficult thing to do when millions of Darfuris are in need, but backing down will only cause more suffering in the long run.

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