Employee abduction forces temporary closure of Oxfam offices in North Darfur

Published: 10 July 2006

Insecurity increasing difficulties for Darfur aid operation

Oxfam announced today [Monday, July 10] that it has temporarily closed two of its offices in North Darfur due to the abduction of an employee. The Sudanese staff member, who was taken during the hijacking of an Oxfam vehicle, has now been missing for two months, and all efforts to locate him have failed.

The ongoing insecurity in Darfur and the increased targeting of humanitarian vehicles and workers by armed groups, is making it ever more difficult and dangerous for aid agencies to operate. As a result, the Oxfam offices in Saraf Omra and Birka Seira, in the western part of North Darfur, have now officially been closed. Oxfam operations continue throughout the rest of Darfur.

Oxfam’s Regional Director, Mr. Paul Smith-Lomas, stressed that this incident was an example of the need for urgent strengthening of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS).

Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam’s Regional Director, commented: “The temporary closure of the program has been taken as the last possible option. Since the abduction we have been working tirelessly with the African Union, the United Nations, government authorities and local communities to try and locate him, without success. We continue to work for his return but in the meantime we have no option but to close the program.”

Saraf Omra and Birka Seira are two of Oxfam’s six offices in North Darfur. Oxfam’s programs in the surrounding villages and camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) have been providing more than 52,000 people with clean water, sanitation facilities, hygiene education and other means of assistance to improve livelihoods.

Mr. Smith-Lomas continued: “Oxfam has worked closely with local communities ahead of the closure to ensure many needs will continue to be met. In addition our program of distributing seeds, tools and donkeys to villages has been completed. We have also put local committees in place that will be able to maintain much of the water and sanitation programming, and we will continue to provide the area with support.”

The abduction occurred on May 3, when an Oxfam vehicle was hijacked while carrying out routine work in rural areas around Saraf Omra. Neither the driver nor the vehicle has been recovered and the perpetrators have not been confirmed. Incidents of hijacking and looting that directly target humanitarian workers and vehicles have been steadily increasing throughout Darfur in recent months. Where possible Oxfam accesses programs via helicopter services; however in rural areas this is not always feasible and many of the overland routes have now become too dangerous to use.

“The targeting of humanitarian vehicles and personnel is completely unacceptable,” said Mr. Smith-Lomas. “More than three million people in Darfur are dependent on humanitarian assistance, and the ongoing insecurity is making it extremely difficult for aid agencies to reach people who are in desperate need.”

The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) has been hampered in dealing with the deteriorating security situation by a lack of funds, resources and troops, and a limited mandate. It has just 7,000 troops to try and secure a region the size of France.

“The international community must do more to give AMIS the support it needs,” said Mr. Smith-Lomas. “The ongoing focus on a possible UN mission is detracting from the fact that AMIS needs strengthening immediately, and governments around the world must act now to make sure that happens.”

Oxfam’s programs currently provide clean water and sanitation to more than 400,000 people in the camps and rural areas of Darfur, as well as a further 125,000 Darfur refugees who have fled over the border to Chad.


Contact Information

For further information please contact:

Malcolm Fleming +44 141 285 8855 / +44 771 891 8346, mgfleming@oxfam.org.uk
Alun McDonald +249 912 391 557 / +88 216 51129087, amcdonald@oxfam.org.uk