MSF evacuates teams after series of assaults on staff in North Darfur

Khartoum/Barcelona - The medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to evacuate its staff from Tawila and Shangil Tobaya, in North Darfur, after a series of violent assaults against MSF staff. The suspension of activities leaves more than 65,000 civilians, the majority of them displaced people, without medical assistance.

MSF strongly condemns these attacks and calls for the respect of humanitarian aid workers, so they can continue providing much needed assistance to civilians. Over the last week, the teams in Tawila and Shangil Tobaya were victims of two similar attacks. Groups of armed men entered the compounds at night, threatened the staff with their guns and stole money, including salaries of the local staff, along with other valuables. Staff were held at gun point and intimidated.

"After these violent attacks, we have had to suspend activities and evacuate all our staff from Tawila and Shangil Tobaya," said Munica Camacho, MSF Head of Mission in Darfur. "It was a difficult decision, because this suspension of activities leaves the people with no medical care. But it is impossible for our teams to work and provide medical aid without a minimum guarantee of security and respect for humanitarian work."

In Tawila, MSF is the only medical organisation providing medical care to more than 30,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in three camps and to the civilian population of the surrounding rural area. In Shangil Tobaya, MSF provides a complete range of medical services - in and outpatient care, nutritional programme, reproductive health, treatment for victims of sexual violence and mental health activities - for 28,000 IDPs living in two camps and other 5,000 people of the surrounding villages.

This is not the first time that such incidents have occurred in the area. Over the last year, the team in Tawila has been victim of three serious security incidents and was evacuated twice. In Shangil Tobaya, activities were suspended for several months in early 2007. When teams started working again, a new serious robbery took place in October.

MSF continues to provide humanitarian assistance in other projects in North, South and West Darfur, with currently some 1,500 aid workers in the field.