Numerous news sources early this week reported that the government of Sudan expelled five aid workers from Darfur, including two from the U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR, one from the Food and Agriculture Organization, and two from the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, all of whom were based in West Darfur. (The ICRC is saying that their staff members were “recalled with the agreement of authorities.”) This disturbing new development, which follows on the heels of the July expulsion of two International Organization for Migration employees, may be indicative of a greater emerging trend for Darfur in the pre-referendum period.
While recently in Sudan, I had the opportunity to meet with a variety of folks who suggested that the ruling National Congress Party, or NCP, appears determined to resolve the Darfur problem on its own terms, now that the international community has its focus on the North-South negotiations. In fact, the committee that was recently created by the NCP to address the Darfur crisis has the “domestication” of the solution at its core. And though it is universally-recognized that a resolution to the crisis can only be found through the engagement of the people of Darfur (and ultimately through some solution to the displacement problem), past experience with the NCP suggests that the committee is simply an attempt to assuage the international community while cutting it out of the process all together.
The NCP’s plans for resolving the crisis appear to be some combination of camp closures, forced returns (though not to areas of origin), and “development,” though it’s not clear how development can truly take place in the absence of security and with the problem of illegally-occupied land. Part of this plan seems to be motivated by the fact that the tribes currently occupying land in Darfur have also been armed by the government, making it more dangerous for the NCP to move the occupiers than to return IDPs to their land. It seems that in its calculations, the NCP has adopted a solution that will worsen the situation for those whose rights, homes, and livelihoods have already been stripped.
It should be no wonder, then, that those who were asked to leave included UNHCR, the agency that has been deeply involved in tracking IDP movement and illegal land occupation throughout West Darfur (though not reporting externally on these trends). The expulsion of ICRC is perhaps more disturbing because of the fact that the Red Cross takes pains to remain both neutral and impartial, yet was still viewed by the government in Darfur as a threat.
The expulsion of members of these organizations indicates that the NCP feels emboldened both by the international community’s focus on the pre-referendum negotiations and demonstrates the ruling party’s ability to co-opt the community’s rhetoric while pursuing its own agenda. Alarmingly, no major international actors have come out publicly to condemn these expulsions, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who alluded to the incident in a recent statement, but has not directly addressed the issue. Talking the talk of peace should not be the signal for international disengagement. If past history with the NCP has taught us anything, it’s that ignoring one conflict in favor of another can only lead to tougher times down the line.
Photo: Peacekeepers in Darfur (IRIN)