AL SALAAM CAMP, North Darfur - The little hospital built from plastic sheeting and wooden poles is not much
to look at. Yet it serves 20,000 of Darfur’s suffering people, offering
life-saving medical care to families who fled their homes with nothing.
Yesterday it was closed. Its patients were sent home and doctors and nurses
told not to turn up for work. The Sudanese Government, having bombed more
than two million people into the camps, is expelling aid workers in
retaliation against a world that wants to arrest its President.
Aid officials warn that a humanitarian emergency is in danger of becoming a
disaster. The move has put the supply of food to 1.1 million people in
doubt, as the UN’s World Food Programme scrambles to find lorries to deliver
sacks of grain. It had been using four of the expelled charities to get food
to people in need. Outside the hospital – run by the International Rescue
Committee until it was ordered out – a mother brushed flies from the face of
her daughter. “My baby is sick,” Fatima Abdulrahmen said. “She has a fever
and I brought her here and now I don’t know what to do. Who will help me
The people who should be helping – the staff of 13 international charities
including Oxfam, Médicins sans Frontières and Care – were boarding flights
to the capital, Khartoum.
Government officials began making telephone calls on Wednesday, seconds after
the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it had issued a
warrant for the arrest of President al-Bashir. They told aid agencies that
their licences to operate were being revoked for passing information to ICC
Mr al-Bashir is wanted on two charges of war crimes and five of crimes against
humanity in Darfur. The United Nations has estimated that 300,000 people
have died in six years of fighting, many at the hands of the Janjawid – Arab
militias armed by the Government and deployed as a counter-insurgence force.
The Government called mobs on to the streets of the capital yesterday in an
angry show of support. More than 10,000 people, many screaming furiously,
poured in to Martyrs Square to cheer on their President. Some burnt Israeli
flags and effigies of Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor. Mr
al-Bashir, who seized power in a coup in 1989, turned his ire on the US and
Europe. “We are telling the colonialists we are not succumbing. We are not
submitting. We will not kneel. We are targeted because we refuse to submit,”
he told the crowd.
The African Union said yesterday that it was sending a delegation to the UN to
urge the Security Council to defer the arrest warrant, fearing that it could
provoke more turmoil and wreck the fragile North-South peace process in
Sudan. The Sudanese representative in the African Union called on African
states to withdraw from the ICC in protest.
Human rights campaigners accused Sudan of holding the people of Darfur
hostage. “Millions of lives are at stake and this is no time to play
political games,” Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty
International’s Africa Programme, said. “These aid agencies provide the bulk
of the humanitarian aid required by more than two million vulnerable people.”
In El Fasher, capital of North Darfur, government officials began the process
of seizing millions of pounds in assets belonging to the charities. Men with
dark glasses and clipboards arrived at the Oxfam office to begin itemising
equipment. They left with laptops, desktop computers and satellite phones,
choking off communication. There was a similar scene at the French agency
Action Contre La Faim. “We are due to start distributing food to the camps
in a fortnight,” one worker said. “Who else is going to do this and stop
people starving? Words cannot describe what is happening.”
Charities reported that their bank accounts were being frozen. Doctors with
Médicins sans Frontières were trying to contain two deadly outbreaks of
meningitis before being expelled. Their clinics have closed.
In Abu Shouk, home to about 50,000 people, men dressed in dusty jalabayas were
hammering at a water pump. This should be the work of water and sanitation
engineers from Oxfam. “We don’t know how to fix it,” said one man wielding a
foot-long spanner, “but we are thirsty.”
In neighbouring Al Salaam the umdas – or chiefs – gathered to discuss the
news. Adam Mahmoud, the chief umda, gestured one way and then the next as he
pointed out the International Rescue Committee hospital, latrines dug by
Oxfam, feeding centres and camp administrative offices, all run by foreign
charities. All are closed.
“If these organisations leave then there is no doubt that we will all suffer
again,” he said. “It will be a disaster.”