Press conference by Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator on revocation of licences for non-governmental organizations operating in northern Sudan

The Sudan's decision to revoke the registration licenses of 13 non-governmental organizations operating in its northern half would have devastating effects on its own citizens, especially the 4.7 million people receiving aid in Darfur, Catherine Bragg, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

"These agencies are vital implementation partners for the United Nations and account for at least half of the humanitarian capacity in Darfur," she said, noting that 40 per cent of the aid workers in Darfur -- roughly 6,500 national and international personnel -- would be departing in the wake of the Government's decision. Some international staff had been given only 24 hours to leave the country. Ms. Bragg is also Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

She said Sudanese officials had asked some agencies to hand over a list of their assets and, in some cases, they had started gathering banking details and confiscating computers, communications equipment and vehicles. The authorities were also demanding the passports of some international staff, and several national staff working for one non-governmental organization had been arrested.

Today's decision by Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) to revoke the registration of three humanitarian aid groups followed its demand yesterday that 10 others cease operating and leave North Sudan immediately. The demand brought to 13 the number of groups expelled in the 36 hours following the issuance of the International Criminal Court's warrant for the arrest of President Omer Hassan al-Bashir.

The affected organizations include Action Contre la Faim; CARE International; CHF International; International Rescue Committee; Mercy Corps; Médecins Sans Frontières, Holland and France; Norwegian Refugee Council; Oxfam GB; PADCO; Save the Children, United Kingdom and United States; and Solidarité.

She said reports had been received indicating that international staff of five non-governmental organizations had been detained for up to four hours. Elsewhere, HAC personnel had reportedly been "very intimidating, very aggressive" in encounters with various non-governmental organization staff in their offices. Against that backdrop, the United Nations was deeply concerned about staff safety and security as well as the "profound implications" that the expulsions would have on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Darfur and the wider Sudan.

With the loss of those non-governmental organizations, 1.1 million people would go without food aid and health care, she said, adding that more than 1 million would have no access to water. Contingency planning to fill the gaps left by the expulsions was under way, but the remaining organizations and the Government of the Sudan would face severe challenges in filling operational gaps. Indeed, it seemed unlikely that they could be fully covered.

Urging the Government "to seriously examine the implications of its actions and to reconsider its decision", she stressed that those actions were contrary to the assurances it had previously given that humanitarian operations would be protected and assistance would continue. The Government was expected to comply with its obligations under its own "Organization of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work Bill 2006", which granted non-governmental organizations a right to appeal within 30 days.

Asked how many humanitarian personnel had already left the Sudan, she said she was unsure whether any had left yet, but the United Nations was already pulling field personnel back to Khartoum, where exit visas would be issued. Although the Organization had, as part of its contingency and business continuity planning, considered the possibility that some non-governmental organizations would have to cease operations, the fact that the Government decision affected 13 of the largest aid groups, covering at least half of the entire humanitarian effort in Darfur, had come as a surprise. While it was impossible to predict the future effects of the decision, the spread of infectious diseases would be a particular hazard, given the loss of health care for 1.1 million people.

Responding to requests for more details of how the aid gaps would be filled, she stressed that contingency planning was still at an early phase, but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would speak with other United Nations agencies, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about increasing their staff to replace the expelled humanitarian workers.

Asked whether the expulsions applied to the entire country, she said only operations in North Sudan were being shut down. Those in South Sudan were currently unaffected.

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