UN: Darfur relief blocked when Sudan cut off visas

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Sudan’s government has not renewed work permits for 20 of the 37 U.N. refugee agency staffers in the country, which has forced cutbacks in services to displaced people in Darfur, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this particularly hit their work in North Darfur, where none of the U.N. staff had work permits renewed and they were abruptly asked to leave in early July.

“The result is that for over a month, UNHCR has been unable to effectively undertake protection and assistance activities” for homeless people in North Darfur, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian coordinator Ali Al-Za’tari and UNHCR Representative Kai Nielsen said in a joint statement issued in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

Sudan’s U.N. mission had no immediate reaction.

Last week the U.N. Security Council expressed serious concern at Darfur’s deteriorating humanitarian situation and demanded an end to escalating violence.

The UNHCR says about 2 million people are homeless in Darfur, of whom 1.2 million live in camps. There have been almost 300,000 newly displaced people this year alone, including a third of them within and from North Darfur.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday in New York, “I think that the U.N. system, as whole, would be wanting to see movement on visas and permits.”

The UNHCR said the loss of work permits “will directly impact projects related to health, education, basic services and livelihoods, the provision of emergency shelter and non-food items, and on the verification of returnees.”

The refugee agency said it had recently distributed relief items such as sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting and kitchen utensils to some 230,000 displaced people in Darfur.

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