Aid groups return to Darfur – with new names
The decision by Mercy Corps, Care, and others to go back to Sudan's troubled region after being kicked out in March opens fresh debate over how to deliver aid to people living under oppressive regimes.
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Both left with assurances that expelled agencies could return as long as they adopted new names and logos.Skip to next paragraph
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As a result, Care Switzerland, Mercy Corps Scotland, and Padco, an international development consulting firm, have all begun the registration process. Save The Children Sweden is already operating in Darfur, after Save The Children US was expelled.
A bad precedent?
Aid workers will not speak openly about the decision, given the sensitivity of the subject. But some have privately expressed concern about the precedent it sets.
"It seems there is a big divide between [headquarters], which sees Darfur as a high-profile emergency and the sort of place it is important to work in, and people who worked there and suffered intimidation and bullying," says an aid worker now based in Nairobi, Kenya. "Khartoum now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it. Who's to say we wouldn't spend millions of dollars building up our programs, only to be kicked out again in a few months?"
The organizations returning, however, say the only factor that matters is their ability to deliver assistance to people in need.
Ross Hornsey, spokesman for Mercy Corps Scotland, said: "Of course we don't have guarantees. We are happy to get our registration through, because there's a humanitarian imperative to get aid through."
He added that aid agencies often face bureaucratic and logistical hurdles given the nature of humanitarian emergencies, which often play out against amid war or civil unrest.
More than 200,000 people have died during six years of fighting in Sudan's remote western region.
Almost 3 million people have been forced into aid camps to escape clashes.
Aid desperately needed
More than 1 million of those were receiving food from expelled aid groups. Another million relied on organizations like Care and Oxfam for drinking water.
Medical teams from Doctors Without Borders were tackling two meningitis outbreaks when they were expelled.
For now, aid officials believe many short-term needs are being met by aid groups and United Nations agencies that remained in Darfur. But they warn that the long-term impact could be devastating, particularly with the rainy season starting this month.
Sudan's new twist on divide and rule
Fouad Hikmat, Darfur analyst with the International Crisis Group, says Khartoum was up to its old tricks, using tactics of divide and rule – this time directed at aid agencies, rather than tribes or rebel groups.
"I would have thought [the aid groups] should have stuck together, insisted they had done nothing wrong, and established clear criteria for their return – guarantees on access, security, visas, an end to smears in the media. With that established, then they could think about returning," he says. "Instead, Khartoum has done a rather clever job of giving the US envoy what he wanted, but without any guarantees [that] conditions for the NGOs are going to be any better."