Darfur (Sudan)

International Development written question – answered on 24th June 2004.

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Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development

(1) what discussions (a) he, (b) members of his Department and (c) representatives of the UK Government in Khartoum have (i) initiated and (ii) had with (A) members and (B) representatives of the Sudanese Government concerning the facilitation of access to Darfur by non-governmental organisations; what specific complaints were raised during those discussions; and if he will make a statement.

(2) what assessment his Department has made of the UN Under Secretary-General's statement of 14 June regarding the bureaucratic burden placed on relief agencies trying to reach Darfur in Western Sudan; and if he will make a statement;

(3) how many complaints his Department has received from representatives of non-governmental organisations relating to access to Darfur in each of the last eight months; and if he will make a statement;

(4) what assessment his Department has made of the Sudanese Government's policy of removing radio equipment from non-governmental organisations' and United Nations' vehicles seeking access to Darfur; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

DFID is facing a humanitarian emergency in Darfur, where the provision of assistance is absolutely vital. In this context, hindrances to the delivery of humanitarian supplies are unacceptable. The UK has been working to facilitate humanitarian access to Darfur, and our Embassy in Khartoum is engaged on a daily basis with the Government of Sudan, although we are making progress, there is still more that needs to be done.

I raised the question of issuing visas to Sudan with the Sudanese Foreign Minister in London on 11 May. He gave me a firm commitment that visas for humanitarian personnel working in Darfur would be issued within 48 hours. There has been a marked improvement as a result of this commitment. On 20 May, the Sudanese Government announced the change to a 48 hour notification system for travel to Darfur, replacing the previous requirement for a travel permit. This improvement has also allowed progress on the ground.

I raised the question of humanitarian access with the First Vice President the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, and the State Minister for Finance in Khartoum on 8 June, where I was given firm commitments that the Sudanese Government would fast-track customs clearance for humanitarian goods within seven days, and that new international NGOs applying for registration to work in Darfur would be fast-tracked in 10 days. This has resulted in new international NGO registrations. They also agreed that medical supplies that were on an approved list did not need testing before being brought into Sudan. I raised with them the specific complaint from Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland that 200MT of food and 30MT of medical supplies had been held in Port Sudan for three months. Both Ministers assured me that this would be released within days. This has now taken place.

Following my visit, the British Ambassador has continued to raise on a regular basis the question of humanitarian access to Darfur, including through letters to the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and the State Minister in the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs highlighting specific instances of ongoing bureaucratic difficulties. These included outstanding applications for registration from new international NGOs, the need to give 72 hours notice for passengers on UN flights, the need for clarity about the requirements for testing medical and food supplies, the urgency of releasing radio and communications equipment from customs and the need to issue promptly visas for international health staff. We are calling on the Government of Sudan to consider suspending all regulations relating to humanitarian access to Darfur for a period of three months. The Higher Committee on Darfur will meet on 24 June to discuss humanitarian access where we will raise all the outstanding issues. In addition, I intend to speak to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs this week.

The UK Government has been in constant dialogue with UK NGOs working in Darfur since September 2003. DFID has held regular meetings with the Disasters and Emergency Committee in London on Darfur. In Khartoum, the Ambassador has taken the lead in establishing regular meetings with the Government of Sudan, NGOs and donors to discuss the question of access to Darfur. It would require disproportionate work to answer the question of how many complaints were received by NGOs in each of the last eight months.

DFID has received reports that radios and communications equipments have been held in customs by the Sudanese authorities. Given the essential nature of this equipment for ensuring the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, this is unacceptable. It was raised in the letter from the British Ambassador to the State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs. I intend to follow up closely on the implementation of all the commitments given by the Government of Sudan about humanitarian access to Darfur and will continue to raise specific instances as appropriate.

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