Oxfam Seeks Khartoum's Explanation for Expulsion

Although Oxfam cannot continue working in Darfur, its struggle in the region is not over yet.

The relief group's British arm has been prevented from pursuing its work following Khartoum's decision to expel several non-governmental organizations from the region. Programs providing clean water, sanitation, education and microfinance were shut down. Nevertheless, Oxfam GB submitted a formal appeal to Sudan's Humanitarian Aid Commission to contest this decision and the accusations of passing information to the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Two issues are at stake in this appeal: Oxfam's political neutrality and the urgent need to go back and deliver aid to the 600,000 people the NGO assisted across northern Sudan.

"We strongly refute the government's accusation that we have acted outside our humanitarian mandate," declared Penny Lawrence, Oxfam GB's international programs director. "We are an independent, impartial organization, and we have not provided any information to the ICC's investigation."

The appeal stands as an intent to understand the true reasons of the expulsion.

"We haven't had received any kind of explanation from the government about what exactly we were supposed to have done," said Alun McDonald of Oxfam's Nairobi office.

It is true that Khartoum's accusations remain rather blur. In its official statement published on HAC's Web site, the government only mentioned "harmful activities which are against the national security of the country" and a "non ethical behavior which exploits the needs and suffering of the people for acts and objectives inconsistent with the noble humanitarian objectives."

However, the main concern for Oxfam is the disastrous consequences this expulsion will cause. In some camps, many water pumps have already stopped working and even if communities try to ration clean water, the threat of diseases such as cholera, malaria and diarrhea is dramatically increasing due to the coming rainy season.

Such a scenario does not seem to worry the Sudanese government too much.  A Sudan-United Nations joint technical report published on HAC's Web site concluded that no gaps were to be seen after the expulsion of foreign aid groups and that humanitarian indicators in food, health, nutrition and nonfood items were stable.

Surprisingly, the U.N.'s opinion differs. According to the U.N. Mission in Sudan, the expulsions have had significant negative impacts on the area's population, creating gaps in assistance that Sudanese government agencies cannot address.

In front of such nonsense, one may wonder: Is it really a good time for political games?

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