The Belgian branch of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) today announced the closure of its activities in Sudan, owing to “the Sudanese government’s systematic denial of access to people trapped in conflict areas”.
In a press release today, MSF states that a total denial of access to Blue Nile state, forced closure of activities in East Darfur, and administrative obstacles and blockages in South Darfur “have made it impossible for MSF to respond to medical emergencies in these areas”.
“The Sudanese government’s approach to an international humanitarian presence in conflict areas of Sudan was starkly revealed last week when a Sudanese Air Force fighter jet targeted and bombed a hospital run by our MSF colleagues in South Kordofan State,” said Dr Bart Janssens, director of operations for MSF in Brussels.
“The government has many ways to shut off our access to the people who are in the greatest need, and it uses them. High level meetings we have attended have made it clear that humanitarian assistance to populations most affected by conflict in Blue Nile State and southern areas of Darfur will continue to be blocked and restricted as long as military operations are prioritised over humanitarian assistance.”
MSF furthermore states that it has been consistently denied access to the Blue Nile state, where conflict erupted in the autumn of 2011 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).
“The government has many ways to shut off our access to the people who are in the greatest need, and it uses them.”
“Since the conflict began in Blue Nile, this Sudanese state has become a restricted zone, with no international aid workers allowed in.
“In 2011 and 2012, MSF teams in the refugee camps across the border in South Sudan faced a well-documented health catastrophe as some 100,000 Sudanese refugees poured across the border in terror, some having died during the journey, and some so weak that they died on arrival in South Sudan. Death rates in the camps reached more than double the recognised emergency mortality thresholds,” the press release reads.
“The refugees remain trapped, still entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival, but they are terrified of returning to Sudan,” said Dr Janssens. “We continue to care for those who managed to escape to South Sudan, but our teams in Sudan are not allowed to even assess the needs, let alone provide assistance.”
Concerning Darfur, MSF explains that in December 2012, MSF team members at the organisation’s hospital and mobile clinic project in Shaeria, East Darfur, were suddenly detained, and removed from the area. Despite numerous requests and high level meetings, no explanation for the detentions was provided. MSF remains unable to work in the region.
In the El Sareif camp for the displaced, near Nyala, capital of South Darfur, an MSF team was blocked from providing urgently needed additional emergency capacity.
“Whether we ask for access through dialogue and meetings, seek negotiations through influential partners of the government, or speak out in media, nothing seems to have the slightest impact.”
“MSF was running a medical project in the camp, but when a new influx of displaced people arrived in March and April 2014, a reinforcement team of emergency specialists was denied travel permits to the camp. At the time, clean water provision in the camp was below one third the recognised emergency minimum and waterborne diseases such as hepatitis E were rife,” MSF states in the press release.
“Whether we ask for access through dialogue and meetings, seek negotiations through influential partners of the government, or speak out in media, nothing seems to have the slightest impact,” said Dr Janssens.
“Our experience is that the Sudanese government arranges meetings specifically to prevent international aid, rather than to facilitate it. We have drawn the desperately sad conclusion that under the current circumstances, we cannot carry out emergency and life-saving work in three major conflict-affected parts of Sudan where we are desperately needed.”
The needs, related to violence and displacement clearly extend to other areas of Sudan. UN figures reveal that in 2014 roughly 400,000 people were newly displaced in the wider Darfur region, and that 2.3 million people were displaced throughout the country. Nearly seven million people require humanitarian assistance, according to MSF.
“The Brussels-based section of MSF remains committed to providing emergency care to conflict-affected populations in Sudan, and will continue to pursue all avenues available to provide this care.
“MSF first began working in Sudan in 1979. Since 2011, the obstacles placed by authorities in the way of humanitarian access have increasingly made the work of the Brussels-based section, which was focusing on Blue Nile State, East Darfur and South Darfur, impossible.”
Other MSF sections continue to work in Sudan, although the Paris-based MSF section has suspended activities in South Kordofan until further notice, following the targeted bombing of its hospital in Farandallah in the Nuba Mountains on 20 January this year.