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MSF team denied access to South Darfur camp

July 2 - 2014 BRUSSELS

The 15,000 displaced in El Sareif camp in South Darfur are living in extremely poor conditions. The most recent 4,500 arrivals to the camp have scarcely enough drinking water to stay alive, and infectious diseases such as Hepatitis E are spreading.

Despite the acute and immediate needs, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reinforcement team that had arrived in Khartoum was refused permission to travel to the camp to initiate an emergency response, MSF reported in a press release on Wednesday.

In March and April, newly displaced who had fled widespread attacks on their villages in areas southwest of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State, flocked the camps for the displaced in the state. El Sareif camp, near Nyala, received thousands of newly displaced.

“While some of the new arrivals have now left the camp, the 4,500 that have stayed are in particularly terrible conditions, sheltering on a patch of desert with almost none of the basic essentials to sustain life. Before the new influx, camp residents were surviving on less than five litres of water per person per day, when the recognized minimum for emergencies is 15 litres – and the new arrivals have access to even less water, not enough to adequately sustain human life.”

The MSF medical team, working in El Sareif camp since August 2013, was already responding to the health consequences of the dire situation in the camp. Most of the consultations by MSF’s medical team in the camp are related to bad living conditions, unsafe water, and poor hygiene.  

“An MSF assessment of the needs of the new arrivals in May pointed to a potentially catastrophic situation,” said Cyril Bertrand, MSF Operations Coordinator. “What is urgently needed is reinforcement with key staff that have emergency experience. Our immediate response was to send a team of three people with appropriate experience to provide the expertise necessary to launch initial life-saving emergency activities. We do not understand why, when this team arrived in Khartoum, they were not granted permission to travel to the camp. Despite meetings at the highest levels of relevant government ministries, their travel permits continue to be blocked.”

Hepatitis E

According MSF, of particular concern is an ongoing outbreak of Hepatitis E, a potentially fatal water-borne disease with no specific cure other than treating the symptoms. So far this year up to 21 June, more than 400 cases were reported. MSF foresees an alarming increase in the outbreak unless a rapid and very substantial water and sanitation response is urgently undertaken, either by the other organisations in the camp, or by MSF emergency specialists who are on stand-by for this.

“The refusal to allow our team to travel to the camp is a major cause for concern,” Bertrand said. “We have faced administrative obstacles in the past in running our programme in El Sareif, but in the face of the alarming living conditions, we find the denial of permits for this emergency team particularly inexplicable. We call on the authorities to facilitate a fast-track access to avoid lives being needlessly lost.” 

MSF, a neutral, impartial, independent medical humanitarian organization, is present in Sudan since 1979. Its medical teams started working in Darfur in 1985, and have been providing medical care in the region continuously since 2004. 

File photo: People waiting to see a doctor at a MSF clinic in Darfur (Juan-Carlos Tomasi/MSF)

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