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.
The U.S. State Department later Tuesday characterized the withholding of work documents as an "expulsion."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, "This recent tightening of restrictions on humanitarian actors in Darfur, including U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations, raises serious concerns about the government of Sudan's willingness to uphold the promises it made" in the Doha accords of 2011, adopted in Qatar, capping 2 1/2 years of negotiations with Sudan's rebel groups.
The problem "raises questions regarding the viability of this peace accord," she said.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, said later Tuesday that he was not yet aware of the issue.
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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