- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
South Sudan is wracked by unfettered violence, ethnic cleansing, and famine. But now the government wants to charge aid workers $10,000 to operate in the country.
Officials in Juba say it’s a way for well-off Western and international aid organizations to shore up the cash-starved government. But aid organizations say the unprecedented move will choke off access to those in dire need of aid — and could have deadly consequences.
Juba plans to charge $10,000 for foreign “professionals” working in the country, $2,000 for “blue collar” workers, and $1,000 for “casual workers,” the labor ministry said in a statement. Work permits for each foreign aid worker were $100 before the massive hike.
The increase is “absolutely unheard of globally,” Julien Schopp, director for Humanitarian Practice at InterAction, told NPR. “No organization can afford this, and if NGOs go to their institutional donors to request that extra money, I’m pretty sure that [the donors] will be reluctant to pay this because they will see this to some extent as ransom,” he said.
The ransom fears are well-founded. Aid organizations are increasingly worried government and rebels forces are targeting their workers. In August, South Sudanese military forces stormed a compound popular with foreigners and gang-raped, beat, and murdered foreign aid workers and local journalists. Survivors say the soldiers targeted Americans. A U.N. compound a mile away refused to intervene despite pleas from the foreigners. A subsequent U.N. investigation pinned the blame on the government.
In February, the U.N. declared a famine in parts of the war-torn country. Some 100,000 people were “already starving” and 5 million were at risk of starvation. “Our worst fears have been realized,” said Serge Tissot, a U.N. spokesman in South Sudan. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the crisis was entirely “man-made,” citing the country’s prolonged and bloody civil war that began in 2013.
The conflict has made it harder for aid workers to distribute food or other forms of relief. The U.N.’s resources in the country are stretched thin. Without non-governmental aid organizations, it could become much, much worse.
“It is the wrong measure at the wrong time. If it does come into effect, it’s obviously terrible timing,” Joel Charny, director of the Norway Refugee Council USA, told the Guardian. In November, 2016, the South Sudanese government booted the NRC director in Juba out of the country without giving any explanation. NRC still works in South Sudan.
The finance ministry still needs to sign off on the decree before it goes into effect, so it’s not a done deal yet. But the proposal itself damaged South Sudan’s already dismal international reputation.
“The mere fact that they have put this forward is concerning,” Charny said.
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