Sudan: Surviving without the help of NGOs

On March 4th, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. In retaliation, 13 NGO’s were banished from the country the day after, a number that rose to 16 within the week. As a result, a handful of projects have halted operations: those offering drinkable water supply, food distribution, health care and teaching systems among others.

Consequently, many Sudanese people were forced to leave the country, seeking asylum abroad. Victor Angelo [pt] was in Goz Beida camp, 200 kilometers south east of Abeche, in Chad, and from there he sent some pictures and reported on attacks by the Jenjawid, or “men on horses”, a militia allegedly paid by the Sudanese government.

Ouvir atentamente. Refugiado sudanês com quem me encontrei hoje em Goz Beida, 200 quilómetros a Sudeste de Abeche, durante a visita que Bernard Kouchner, Alain Le Roy e eu fizemos ‘a localidade

“Listen carefully. A Sudanese refugee I met today in Goz Beida, 200 kilometers south east of Abeche, during a visit by Bernard Kouchner, Alain Le Roy and me to the place.

As consequências da expulsão de 13 ONGs do Sudão sobre os parentes destes homens foi um dos temas que mais preocupou a assembleia. Que vai acontecer aos familiares que ainda se encontram no Darfur e que dependiam das ONGs humanitárias no que respeita a necessidades básicas, como água, alimentação , saúde e escolas?

The consequences of the 13 NGO’s banishment from Sudan upon these men's relatives was one of the issues that most concerned the assembly. What is going to happen to their families, who are still there in Darfur and have been relying on humanitarian NGOs to meet their basic needs, such as water, food, health and schooling?

A sina do Presidente Al-Bashir atraiu as atenções de todos. Os refugiados apoiam freneticamente a decisão do Tribunal Penal Internacional.

President  Al-Bashir's destiny grabbed everybody's attention. The refugees support the International Criminal Court's decision fervently.

Vítima de ataque dos cavaleiros Jenjawid, aliados armados e organizados sob a forma de milícias, do Presidente do Sudão. Certos Jenjawid, palavra local que inicialmente queria dizer “homem a cavalo”, tornaram-se os principais actores dos crimes de guerra.

A victim of the Jenjawid horsemen's attacks, an armed and organized militia ally of the Sudanese President. Some Jenjawid, a local word that initially meant “men on horse”, appear to be the main perpetrators of war crimes.

People from the Abeche region have been treated by doctors from Médecins Sans Frontièress. Despite being a well-known NGO, MSF is one of those banished from Sudan. The refugee camp was perhaps the most sensitive place of those where it worked. In Kalma, located in the South of the Darfur region, the 6 kilometer square camp holds 100,000 people living in “houses” made of wood, plastic and anything that can be used as protection against the high temperatures during the day and the low temperatures at night.

In the Kalma camp, MSF used to run a basic health care clinic, a women’s health unit, and an outreach department, where they saw between 200 and 300 patients on a daily basis (Monday to Monday) in the out-patient department and 200 in the women’s health unit. The team was made up of both foreigners and Sudanese people, and now just the Sudanese employees remain at work. However, according Lydia Geirsdottir, former supervisor of the camp, among those who stayed “there are only two MSF-trained medical staff able to treat basic health problems and the supplies will run out quickly”. Cíntia Rojo [pt], who became aware of the news through the NGO website, comments:

“Darfur concentra a crise humanitária de maior proporção na atualidade. Ou seja, um lugar onde vida e morte são separadas por uma tênue divisa. Desnutrição, doenças, violência. Os conflitos em Darfur se tornaram quase que crônicos e, como tudo que se prolonga, acabou caindo no “esquecimento” da comunidade internacional. A saída dessas ONG´s acarretou consequências graves para a população sudanesa pois grande parte dos projetos sociais vigentes na região eram patrocinados por essas entidades.

Darfur faces the biggest humanitarian crises of these times. In other words, it is a place where life and death are separated by a tenuous line. Malnutrition, disease, violence. The conflict in Darfur has turned out to be an almost chronic situation, and, like everything that takes too long, it has ended up being forgotten by the international community. The exit of these NGOs has brought serious problems for the Sudanese population as a consequence, because the major social projects in the region were sponsored by these institutions.”


Darfur on March 5 – see an info graphic on the left showing a description of the population range affected after the NGO ban: 4.7 million people, the centre served by NGOs, and the 13 banned NGOs: Action Contre la Faim; Solidarité; Save the Children (UK and US) Médecins Sans Frontièress (NL&FR); CARE International; Oxfam; Mercy Corps; International Rescue Committee; Norwegian Refugee Council; CHF and PADCO. Material distributed by ReliefWeb. Click on the picture to maximize.

Save the Children had been operating in Sudan for over 20 years, and for the last 6 had worked with war refugees in Darfur and South Kordofan, a region which saw the return of more than 50,000 adults and children in 2008, and where an emergency unit used to be located. According to Charles MacCormack, the NGO President, the withdrawl of the Save the Children, “poses a serious threat to the well being of more than 1 million children and family members whom the two agencies have been supporting in West Darfur, North Kordofan, South Kordofan and Red Sea States and communities in Abyei and near Khartoum”.

Among other projects, Save the Children dealt with food distribution (3,583 tons of food in 44 locations), water and sanitation (448 points of water and 177 water pumps, which supply about 201,500 people) primary health, agriculture as well as construction and teacher training.


(Refugees – Photos by V. Ângelo)

CARE had been operating for 28 years in the country and was also expelled, reportedly has halted all activities and had part of its equipment seized by the Sudanese government, including computers, cars and houses. CARE worked in the fields of agriculture, water, basic sanitation as well as education and health. The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that not only was their equipment seized by the government but their employees were arrested and suffered aggression. OXFAM had been in Sudan for 26 years and worked directly with 600,000 Sudanese people, it has also been forced to leave the country and is now waiting to return.

The atmosphere in Darfur is tense, according to AK. from the Forsudan blog:

“The reaction in Khartoum by the government was almost instantaneous. After speaking with some relatives in Sudan, the situation seems normal and as one of my cousins put it, ‘business is as usual.’ People were expecting there to be a coordinated attack by the Darfuri rebel group Justice and Equality Movement, similar to the one that occurred back in May 2008. People also expected for general violence to breakout, but none of the sort has happened. That being said, people are very tense on the ground and anxious for what is to come. I think people are worried most about the implications on the North-South peace agreement (CPA) and the reaction of the southern government. Here are the positions of Sudanese most prominent political parties. Also, the government has kicked out several international NGOs, among them are OXFAM, Care, and Doctors without Borders.”

The forecast made by the majority of NGOs is that a disaster will happen in the refugee centres, and that an estimated 4.7 million people will be affected, of whom an exodus of 2.7 million is expected. What’s more, 1.5 million need some medical help, 1.1 million do not have food to eat and a million do not have access to water (data from OCHA). In addition,  there is a meningitis outbreak and “no treatment available in the camp, no one to refer patients to the hospital in Nyala, and no mass vaccination. It means that people may die”, reports Lydia Geirsdottir (MSF).

Because of this, Lise Grande, the UN’s Deputy Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan said: “One of the things that those assessments will look at is possible migration flows”. There are more than 100,000 people vulnerable as a result of the upsurge of LRA attacks including over 36,000 internally displaced people who fled their homes in South Sudan, and more than 16,000 refugees from the DRC. “An additional 50,000 people in host communities … are reported to be vulnerable and need humanitarian assistance,” said Grande.

Migration has already started, and some reports have already started to appear via blogs. The sudan-blog reports the reconstruction of a new camp of refugees in Chad, a neighboring country, which expects to attend to about 6,000 refugees.

Originally written in Portuguese, translation into English by Thiana Biondo.


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