BRUSSELS—The Belgian branch of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today announced the closure of its activities in Sudan due to the Sudanese government’s systematic denial of access to people trapped in conflict areas.
The Brussels-based section of MSF was focusing on three conflict-affected parts of Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and in need of assistance. Total denial of access to Blue Nile State, forced closure of activities in East Darfur State, and administrative obstacles and blockages in South Darfur State 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 prioritized over humanitarian assistance.”
MSF has been consistently denied access to Blue Nile State, where conflict erupted in the autumn of 2011 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army–North (SPLA-N) group. 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 recognized emergency mortality thresholds.
Since the conflict began in Blue Nile, this Sudanese state has become a restricted zone, with no international aid workers allowed in.
“The refugees remain trapped, still entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival but terrified of returning to Sudan,” said Dr. Janssens. “We continue to care for those that managed to escape to South Sudan, but our teams in Sudan are not allowed to even assess the needs, let alone provide assistance.”
In December, 2012, MSF team members at the organization’s hospital and mobile clinic project in the town of Shaeria, in East Darfur, were suddenly arrested and removed from the area. Despite numerous requests and high-level meetings, no explanation for the arrests have been provided. MSF remains unable to work in the region.
In the El Sereif camp for displaced people near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, an MSF team has been blocked from providing urgently needed additional emergency capacity. 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 recognized emergency minimum and waterborne diseases such as hepatitis E were rife.
”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. United Nations 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.
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 State until further notice, following the targeted bombing of its hospital in Frandala on January 20, 2015.