aid groups cannot speak openly about the humanitarian situation for fear of jeopardizing their work or being expelled, BosNewsLife established Saturday, May 26.

Barnabas Fund, one of the few Christian aid and advocacy groups seeking publicity, told BosNewsLife that while international aid reached many displaced people fleeing violence in Darfur, "the small minority of Christians among them" may be excluded from aid.

There are an estimated over 3.5 million people in Darfur completely reliant on international
aid.

"As is often the case in crisis situations where Christians are a minority, these Christian refugees could be excluded from the international aid distribution process," Barnabas Fund said. "They are "vulnerable to being excluded at the grass-roots end of the distribution process, as local organizations run by the Muslim majority are likely to discriminate against Christians," the group added.

UK-based Barnabas Fund said it has been helping in Darfur since December 2004 "to ensure that the Christians do not miss out," providing food aid "directly to 100 Christian families," distributed through Sudanese church leaders.

CHRISTIAN FAMILIES

Christian families receive food parcels, apportioned on family size and "containing items such as sorghum, white beans, lentils, rice and oil. The aid sent by Barnabas Fund has enabled Christian families to stay together and has given them hope," the group added.

However working in Darfur remains difficult as most aid agencies fear reprisals amid ongoing
bloodshed, according to a poll conducted by Reuters AlertNet, a humanitarian news and information website run by the Reuters Foundation.

Four-fifths of those surveyed said they could not talk about who was behind attacks on civilians and aid workers making their work difficult, said the poll obtained by BosNewsLife. More than two-thirds could not discuss rape. AlertNet’s editor, Martyn Broughton said the results show that the world may not always be aware of what’s going on in Darfur because information is suppressed.

"The aid agencies are telling us that they are staying quiet because they don’t want to risk their work with the people in the camps," Broughton said. "Journalists and the public depend on those agencies to know what’s going on. But we’ve shown that they’re afraid to talk. Self-censorship may be another crisis in Darfur."

AGENCIES AFRAID

Forty-six international aid agencies took part in the survey conducted by Reuters AlertNet. About 65 percnt said they could not speak openly about the humanitarian situation, 78 percent could not talk about who was behind attacks, 59 percent could not speak about restrictions on their work and 70 percent could not comment on the incidence of rape.

"Rape is a completely taboo subject. The Sudanese government does not want to hear about it," one aid worker told Reuters AlertNet, apparently on condition of anonymity.

Since spring 2003 there has been violent and bloody conflict in Darfur as the Sudanese armed forces and the government-backed militia, known as the Janjaweed, have fought against rebel groups seeking independence, analysts say.

"Together with the Sudanese government the Janjaweed have destroyed hundreds of villages,
killed tens of thousands of people, and raped and assaulted thousands of women and girls,"
Barnabas Fund said. 

GOVERNMENT DENIES

The government in Khartoum has denied the reports saying rape is not part of Sudanese culture.

Complicating the situation are reports that aid operations have been targeted by the Janjaweed, rebel groups and bandits since the crisis flared in 2003. But many aid workers were reluctant to identify the perpetrators of attacks for fear of reprisals, Reuters AlertNet said.

Violence recently has increased, despite the Darfur Peace Agreement signed between the Sudanese government and a rebel group in May 2006, human rights groups say. "I’m thinking all the time about the security of our staff, if there could be any retribution. That’s our main concern," one unidentified agency official was quoted as saying by Reuters AlertNet.

Barnabas Fund quoted Christians in Darfur as saying: "We are praying our Lord will continue
to heal this land from blood shedding, to stop hatred." The group said it can be reached for aid via 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 1672 565031 from outside the United Kingdom. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and reporting from the region).

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