The refugee expert recaps al-Bashir’s expulsion of humanitarian aid groups from Sudan.
Question: What is the current situation in southern Sudan?
George Rupp: Well, the headlines story about Darfur is that we and a dozen other major NGOs have been expelled from Sudan and that’s from all of Northern Sudan, Darfur. And we’ve also been active in the North and the East of Sudan, and that’s major crisis that is in the making right now because there’s no question that the expelled NGOs have been the pipeline for most of the assistance that has been going into Darfur.
So maybe, to go to your initial question, what kind of assistance is that, in Darfur, they’ve been 3 million people displaced, about 300,000 of those have gone across the border, mostly into Chad, but the rest are, in a sense, trapped within Darfur, and they’re in large settlements that are very inhospitable.
These are people who’ve always been able to take care of themselves. They’ve grown their own food. They have their own village structure. I’ve visited some of these villages that have been burned out; and it’s clear that this militia, they’re called Janjaweed. They come in on camels and on horseback and they have simply destroyed the villages and burned the farm, poisoned the wells, raped the women in these villages.
And so they have fled and they are in these large camps for displaced people and the distress on the part of the people in these camps, of the Sudanese government, is extremely high.
And so even if it were feasible for the Sudanese government to get food and healthcare and educational programs and water and sanitation into these settlements, the residents could be extremely resistant because they are completely convinced the reason they are in those camps is because their own government has allied itself with these militia that have driven them from their homes.
We have been in Southern Sudan for about 20 years. Southern Sudan is an area that is pretty autonomous from the north and we’ve worked in Southern Sudan. And when the fighting broke out in Darfur, we were able to move in very quickly along with a few other NGOs, the Save The Children of Great Britain, Doctors Without Borders of France and Holland. The need was so great that we were able to, in a sense, agree on who would be in which of the various geographical regions and what we did is what we always do when we go into an emergency, we provide water and sanitation on an emergency basis. But then we then very quickly tried to provide basic healthcare, begin educational programs, The World Food Program of the UN brought food in. We don’t usually get involved in food distribution, although under very dire circumstances we’ll do that, and we’ve been doing that since 2004 when Darfur blew up; we were no longer be doing that.
So we will be working hard to transfer the capacities that we have developed in our Sudanese staff to other NGOs, including Sudanese NGOs but the Sudanese government has made it very difficult for us to do that. All of our assets on the ground, our vehicles, our computers, our other facilities have been seized and have been locked up.
At the time the Sudanese government issued these expulsion orders, we had only three international staff left in Sudan, outside of the south, in Northern Sudan, a Brit and two Kenyans. And those three are still in Sudan; they’re in a sense being held hostage. We had 600 Sudanese staff who are now all without work because the Sudanese government has forced us to seize operations. So we are working on a number of fronts, we’re trying to see if we can find employment for the staff that are working with us because they’ve learned a lot over the four, five years that we’ve been active in Darfur and they have skills that would be very much needed going forward.
And we’re also trying to assure that the beneficiaries that have depended on the assistance that we’ve given will have other providers. But that’s going to be very difficult to achieve, given the fact that the largest providers of these services have all been expelled.
Recorded on April 1, 2009.