29 January 2015 – 06:00 GMT Embargo

The Brussels-based section of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today announces (29 Jan) that it has been forced to close its operations in Sudan after access to people in greatest need of humanitarian assistance was systematically blocked by the Sudanese authorities.

The emergency teams had been focusing on three conflict-affected parts of Sudan where hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and in need of assistance. But total denial of access to Blue Nile State, forced closure of activities in East Darfur State, and administrative obstacles and blockages in South Darfur State have made it impossible for MSF to respond to medical emergencies in these areas.

“The government has many ways to shut off our access to the people who are in the greatest need, and it uses them,” said Dr Bart Janssens, Director of Operations for MSF in Brussels. “High level meetings we have attended have made it clear that humanitarian assistance to people most affected by conflict in Blue Nile State and southern areas of Darfur will continue to be blocked and restricted as long as military operations are prioritised over humanitarian assistance.”

The Sudanese Government’s approach to international humanitarian presence in the conflict areas was starkly revealed only last week when a Sudanese Air Force fighter jet targeted and bombed a hospital run by MSF’s Paris section in South Kordofan State.

“Whether we ask for access through dialogue and meetings, seek negotiations through influential partners to the government, or speak out in media, nothing seems to have the slightest impact,” says Dr Janssens. “Our experience is that the Sudanese government arranges meetings specifically to prevent international aid, rather than to facilitate it. We have drawn the desperately sad conclusion that under the current circumstances, we cannot do emergency and life-saving work in three major conflict-affected parts of Sudan where we are desperately needed.”

Systematic blockages

MSF has been consistently denied access to Blue Nile State, where conflict erupted in autumn 2011 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army–North (SPLA-N) group.

In the town of Shaeria, in East Darfur, MSF had a hospital and mobile clinic project. In December 2012, MSF team members were suddenly arrested and removed from the area. Despite numerous requests and high level meetings, no explanation was provided and MSF is unable to work in the region.

In El Sereif camp for displaced people near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, MSF was blocked from providing urgently needed emergency medical services. MSF was running a medical project in the camp but when a new influx of displaced people arrived fleeing violence in March and April 2014, an urgently needed reinforcement team of emergency specialists was denied travel permits to the camp. At the time clean water provision in the camp was below a third of the recognised emergency minimum threshold and waterborne diseases such as hepatitis E were rife; an emergency response was needed to save lives.

The Brussels-based section of MSF remains committed to providing emergency care to conflict-affected people in Sudan, and will continue to pursue all avenues available to provide this care.

MSF first started working in Sudan in 1979. Since 2011 the obstacles placed by authorities in the way of humanitarian access have increasingly made the work of the Brussels-based section impossible. Other sections of MSF continue to work in Sudan, although the Paris-based section of MSF has suspended activities in South Kordofan State until further notice following the targeted bombing of its hospital in Frandala on 20 January 2015.