Darfur: Aid Workers Evacuated as New Violence Threatens World?s Largest Humanitarian Response

By Oxfam

Nearly half a million people have less access to humanitarian assistance as a result of increasing military activity, banditry, and direct violence against aid workers in early December. The insecurity led to the temporary evacuation of 250 humanitarian staff members from key locations across Darfur where they were serving about 480,000 people. Aid workers are facing unprecedented difficulties at a time when humanitarian needs are rising fast, said a group of leading international aid agencies working in the conflict-stricken region.

The agencies—Concern Worldwide, Goal, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam International, and World Vision—have demanded that all parties urgently agree to, and maintain, a ceasefire with immediate effect, and ensure that aid workers are able to reach people in need.

“If the deterioration is allowed to continue, the impact on civilians could be devastating,” said Paul Smith-Lomas, a regional director for Oxfam. “With new displacements and attacks, the presence of aid agencies is more important than ever. Yet every day brings one huge blow after another to aid efforts.”

With access to displaced people already at its lowest point since mid-2004, five major areas suffered significant withdrawals of staff members in the first week of December alone: El Fasher and Kutum in North Darfur; El Daein and Shearia in South Darfur; and Kulbus in West Darfur. Although hopefully temporary, such evacuations are becoming more frequent, restricting the humanitarian response in a region where nearly four million people are now dependent on aid agencies for essential services such as food, water, and health care. Humanitarian agencies in eastern Chad are also finding it increasingly difficult to operate.

“The whole region is increasingly complex and uncertain,” said Patty Swahn, the International Rescue Committee’s regional director. “While we all remain fully committed to helping the people of Darfur, frequent evacuations of programs are making it incredibly difficult to deliver aid effectively. Blame cannot be laid solely on one particular group. Everyone involved in the conflict must respect humanitarian operations.”

Examples of the violence that has spread across the region since Dec. 1 include:

South Darfur:
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  • In Shearia, one agency evacuated operations supporting 130,000 people after staff members were assaulted by armed men and three vehicles were stolen
  • El Daein has recently received 20,000 new arrivals who fled fighting, in addition to 30,000 displaced people who were already there. Yet the agencies that would help them were forced to evacuate as rebels and government troops scaled up offensives

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North Darfur:

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  • Violence in and around El Fasher prevented aid workers from accessing camps that shelter more than 100,000 people
  • Agencies have had to evacuate non-essential staff members from Kutum, where 140,000 people are being assisted. The surrounding area has seen some of the heaviest fighting and attacks on civilians in recent months

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West Darfur:

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  • Around Kulbus, escalating violence along the Chad border forced evacuations of aid workers from an area where tens of thousands of people are being assisted
  • Aid vehicles have been hijacked and staff violently beaten. A commercial truck contracted to deliver humanitarian supplies was attacked and at least 31 civilian passengers were shot and burned to death

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Recent months have seen a steady deterioration in the ability agencies have to reach people in need. In November, one agency was unable to properly access 19 of its 22 program locations, affecting 175,000 people. In Kalma camp in South Darfur, which shelters 90,000 people, agencies are losing one day’s work a week due to rising violence inside the camp.<

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Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement last May, violence against civilians and aid workers has increased, and an estimated 200,000 or more newly displaced people have arrived in Darfur’s camps. These camps have been the last source of refuge for many civilians, yet now they are increasingly rife with weapons and armed groups. Civilians are suffering doubly because of the violence, which either catches them up directly or prevents aid agencies from providing essential services.

“We have no blankets, no plastic sheeting for shelters, and no security,” said one man recently arrived in Otash camp in South Darfur.

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