UN refugee agency pulls out staff from South Darfur over Sudanese restrictions
GENEVA, Nov. 11 (UNHCR) - Saying Sudanese authorities are preventing it from carrying out a vital mission to protect thousands of internally displaced people, the UN refugee agency announced today it is temporarily withdrawing key staff from strife-torn South Darfur.
Jean-Marie Fakhouri, UNHCR's operations director for the Sudan situation, said his staff had been restricted to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, for nearly three weeks on orders of Sudanese officials after UNHCR and other UN colleagues intervened to stop the involuntary relocation of displaced people on Oct. 20.
Sudanese authorities responded by restricting UNHCR staff to Nyala - a ban they initially said would be lifted on Nov. 6. As of yesterday, however, the restrictions remained in place and Fakhouri decided that three of the agency's four international staff would be pulled out of Nyala and temporarily relocated to El Geneina, West Darfur. The relocation is taking place today.
"It is extremely frustrating for our staff to be forced to sit idle," Fakhouri said. "If we are not going to be allowed to do our work in South Darfur, then UNHCR has no choice but to go elsewhere where the needs are just as great. Thus, I have instructed our three international protection officers to temporarily relocate to El Geneina."
The UN refugee agency has also put on hold plans to open an office in El Fasher in North Darfur, slated for later this month, pending resolution of the situation in South Darfur.
UNHCR has requested the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to take up this matter urgently with the Sudanese authorities to enable the agency to resume its work as part of the UN team in South Darfur.
The UN refugee agency has been working in Nyala since June 6 as part of the collaborative UN effort in South Darfur. The bulk of UNHCR's staff in Darfur are based in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, where increasing security incidents in recent weeks have impeded access to displaced communities, particularly along the border with Chad.
UNHCR recently announced it would boost its presence in West Darfur, following authorisation from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to provide increased protection to internally displaced persons in West Darfur and prepare for their eventual voluntary return, and that of refugees, when conditions permit. The agency currently has some 20 international staff in West Darfur.
More than 1.8 million people have been uprooted by the violence in Darfur. Some 1.6 million of them are displaced internally inside Darfur while another 200,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad.