South Sudan suspends contentious $10,000 aid worker fee

(March 2017) Women sit in line on the ground waiting to receive food distributed by the World Food Program in Padeah, South Sudan. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)

South Sudan’s Ministry of Finance has decided to put a hold on a plan to charge as much as $10,000 per aid worker, a plan that aid groups criticized as wrongheaded at a time of great humanitarian need.

Government officials said the current fee of $100 for foreign aid worker permits would remain in place for now. Officials said they would work with South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly to reverse the decision that increased the fee by 100 times. It is expected that new proposals – as well as new rates – will be submitted to the cabinet and parliament for approval in the near future.

“The Ministry of Finance acknowledges these significant issues … and steps are being taken to formulate the best way forward,” Finance Minister Finance Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

Famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February and is likely ongoing in Leer and Koch, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The U.S.-funded body expects famine in the region and emergency-level food insecurity in other areas to continue through September. In total, nearly 5 million people face food insecurity, according to the World Food Program.

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Emergency food assistance is reaching some of the hardest-hit areas. More than 70,000 people in Leer were helped in March. Humanitarian groups and U.N. agencies are making it to parts of famine-affected Unity State, but encounter restricted access to the southern counties. UNICEF officials said that the restrictions are preventing aid delivery.

Ongoing conflict has displaced more than 3.5 million people from their homes, further complicating the problem. More than 3,000 people fled the country for neighboring Uganda today following an attack by government soldiers on a border town. Continued fighting between rebel and government forces has destabilized the country leading to the emerging hunger crisis and humanitarian needs totaling $1.6 billion for 2017.

It was in the midst of all these challenges that the government announced new fee rates for aid worker work permits. The $100 fee per foreigner was increased to $10,000 for “professional” workers, $2,000 for “blue collar” workers and $1,000 for “casual workers.” It was the latest blip in the tenuous relationship between humanitarians and South Sudan.

The government considered kicking out aid workers in 2014, when another famine loomed, but did not follow through. Two aid workers with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), including the country director, were detained and kicked out of the country in December.

“Aid organizations bringing relief to millions in South Sudan must be permitted to operate without interference, intimidation or fear of expulsion,” NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said in response to the expulsions. “Aid organizations cannot operate under these conditions. Without assurances from the authorities that we will be able to operate without interference, NRC may have to reassess our ability to deliver assistance at scale in South Sudan.”
The U.N. joined NRC in condemning the decision, arguing that it undermined the ability of humanitarians to operate during a crisis where more aid is needed. Its argument was prescient given the famine declaration less than two months later. The reversal of the permit fee decision removes one obstacle to providing assistance.
Aid groups continue to champion long-term solutions to ease the crisis, namely ending the conflict and taking steps to ensure that people do not experience hunger again.
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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.