A leading Sudanese human rights campaigner says the government's expulsion of humanitarian aid groups from Darfur has put thousands of displaced people at risk of death from outbreaks of meningitis and other infectious diseases.
And Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah also says that two months into the Obama Administration, the United States still lacks a coherent policy to confront the worsening situation in the Darfur region of western Sudan. He appealed for tougher action and greater urgency.
Dr. Ahmed traveled to Boston this week to meet with Cambridge-based Physicians for Human Rights and other groups about the trauma facing what he says are more than one million Darfurians living without adequate water, food or medicine, as well as the inadequate international response to the expulsions.
He said the crisis had worsened since Sudan’s president, Omar Al Bashir, was indicted by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court earlier this month for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bashir responded by expelling 13 humanitarian groups that had been helping to provide food and medicine to some of the 2.5 million displaced people living in camps in Darfur. That is the region of western Sudan where fighting between government-backed militias and rebels has left more than 300,000 dead since 2003.
Ahmed, a physician and professor who specializes in treatment of victims of torture and sexual violence, also is a long-time peace negotiator, working with militias on both sides to come to the bargaining table. He is part of the Sudanese Center for Rights Promotion and Peace Building, a reconciliation group, and won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2007.
He said that after visiting with decision-makers in Washington, he is worried that the Obama Administration still lacks a clear strategy for the Darfur crisis.
“There is no clear plan yet to deal with Sudan in this country,” he said in an interview. “We are urging this country, which gives more than 70 percent of the aid to Darfur, that it is time to stand up and say the right thing…. Americans should be sure that this money and aid goes to the the targeted groups.
“We need a very transparent mechanism. And we need more pressure,” he said, adding that “US officials are sympathizing very much, but they still don’t have clear policies.”
Ahmed said the stress on internal refugees because of the food and water crisis may drive thousands more to make the dangerous trek from Darfur to camps in neighboring Chad. He said residents of some camps in Darfur are refusing to work with Sudanese government officials who are trying to take over the food distribution duties of the expelled groups. See this Los Angeles Times account for a recent update.
The expulsions put a sudden stop to a meningitis immunization campaign that Doctors Without Borders was about to start, just at the onset of one of the periodic outbreaks of the disease, which Ahmed said occurs every eight to ten years. The reduction of food rations for residents of the camps has left the elderly and children more vulnerable this time, he said, and there are also reports of increased tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases.
All of that raises the risk of more Darfurians trying to flee to Chad, he said.
Karen Hirschfeld, director of the Darfur Survival Campaign for Physicians for Human Rights who was escorting Ahmed in Boston, said she visited those camps in Chad in November while conducting a PHR study on women's rights violations.
“There is clearly not the capacity in the camps to deal with thousands of additional refugees," she said. "If 100,000 refugees come across border, the camps cannot cope. The security situation is precarious. Aid agencies are delivering just basic services. The infrastructure has been degreaded by already dealing with 250,000 refugees; they are not in a position to deal with tens of thousands more.”
Ahmed said solving the Darfur crisis demands a regional response, involving Chad, the Central African Republic, Libya and Egypt, and that US policy needs to reflect a regional approach.
“It is very urgent,” he said. “We are going to lose many of these innocent civilian lives.”
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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