The Aucklander heading a New Zealand-funded Darfur aid operation keeping 350,000 people alive says it’s his most challenging overseas operation.
Wayne Mitchell directs the Darfur Emergency Response Operation (DERO), one of the largest humanitarian operations in western Sudan. DERO is supported by New Zealand aid organisations Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Christian World Service (CWS), which are launching a new appeal for Darfur on August 1.
Mr Mitchell says that to minimise risk to personnel and the programme itself, he is more security-conscious in Darfur than any other country he’s worked. He hears regular reports of atrocities in and around relief camps and villages. Mr Mitchell is available for interview at the phone numbers below.
DERO provides emergency assistance to Darfur people driven from their homes, often the victims of violence, disease, starvation and rape. Caritas and CWS believe the victims of this war deserve to live with some dignity. Until the war ends, international humanitarian help is crucial, as 100,000 civilians would die every month if aid stopped.
Now in its sixth year, the war has affected a population equal to New Zealand and forced 2.5 million from their homes. In fighting that began over land conflicts and alleged government neglect of the region, all parties – rebels, government forces and militia – have been implicated in atrocities. The United Nations estimates the death toll of the war, which has spilled into neighbouring countries, is 300,000. A joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is under-deployed and ineffective but in mid-July the International Criminal Court sought a warrant to arrest Sudan President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
As the world’s focus turns to the Olympics, China’s role in the war is also spotlighted. The Asian superpower buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil. High-profile Darfur activists have called for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony saying China can use its leverage on Khartoum to end the war.
Around New Zealand on August 1 a number of communities will hold vigils supporting the victims of Darfur and praying for peace in Sudan. Donations to the Darfur appeal can be made by phoning 0800 74 73 72 or at cws.org.nz.
Main centre vigils will take place in:
Auckland – St Benedicts Church Crypt, 1 St Benedicts Street, Newton, 6pm
Wellington – Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill St, 5.30pm
Christchurch – Christ Church Cathedral, 12.30pm
Dunedin – First Church, 414 Moray Place, 12.30pm
Christian World Service is the Development, Justice and Aid Agency of New Zealand Churches
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is the Catholic Agency for Justice Peace and Development