Oxfam director mired in red tape in Sudan

Sudan has told the local director of the British aid group Oxfam that while his expulsion has been postponed, he must leave to fulfill the requirements of his exit visa. The government declined to say on Thursday whether it would allow him to return.

This week, the government gave the directors of Oxfam and Save the Children UK 48 hours to leave Sudan, accusing them of issuing statements that sent “signals of support” to rebels in Darfur, the western region of Sudan where a rebellion and counterinsurgency campaign have killed thousands and displaced about 1,8 million

people.

The government revised the expulsion orders the same day, Monday, after pressure from Western embassies and the United Nations office in Khartoum. An official at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs said the orders had been postponed, not cancelled.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, the ministry told the local director of Oxfam that “it has been decided to postpone the implementation of this [expulsion] decision until further notice”.

However, the letter reminded the director that he had applied for a visa to leave Sudan: “We hereby inform you that it has been approved and, therefore, you have to complete the procedure and depart as soon as possible so that you will not find yourself in breach of Sudanese immigration laws and procedures.”

The letter did not indicate whether the director would be allowed to return to Sudan.
Nor did it give the timeframe of the exit visa. It was signed by the acting commissioner general at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Abdel Khaliq Al-Hussein Habeeb Allah, and dated Tuesday.

Asked whether the director could return, the undersecretary at the ministry, Abdul Rahman Abu Doum, said: “It is not the time to ask such a question.”

Calls to Oxfam’s office in Khartoum were not answered on Thursday. A spokesperson for Oxfam in Britain was not immediately available.

The acting commissioner general wrote the same day to the director of Save the Children, but the wording of that letter suggested the expulsion had been almost set aside.

“It has been decided to freeze the expulsion decision for the time being,” said the letter to Save the Children. It also said the decision had been taken “in consideration of your humanitarian and social circumstances”—a phrase that was not in the letter to Oxfam.

The head of Save the Children in Sudan, Kate Haiff, is married to a Sudanese citizen and has lived in the country for many years.

The ministry has said the expulsions were in response to the British NGOs’ statements on the upsurge in violence in Darfur this month. It said the statements violated the law on nonintervention in Sudan’s affairs and were deemed as “sending signals of support to the outlaws and rebels for continuation of the war”.

The government has a history of tension with aid groups, which have previously accused Khartoum of restricting access to the displaced people in Darfur.

Although the rebellion began in February 2003, the government did not ease restrictions on aid groups until May 2004, as the world condemned the suffering of the displaced. Sudan argued it had denied access for security reasons. - Sapa-AP

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