(GIN) – International relief groups were sharply critical of South Sudan’s recent decision to increase foreign worker visa fees. The new fees would aggravate a humanitarian crisis in the famine-hit country, they warned.
The government is set to charge $10,000 for foreigners working in a “professional” capacity, $2,000 for “blue collar” employees and $1,000 for “casual workers” from March 1.
The measure could generate a revenue stream for the crisis-wracked nation, where oil revenues account for the near-totality of government earnings, but aid agencies said it could backfire.
Elizabeth Deng, South Sudan researcher with Amnesty International, decried the exorbitant visa price. “The government and the army have largely contributed to the humanitarian situation,” she said. “And now, they want to create profit from the crisis they have created.”
Hundreds of aid workers operate in the country, and the new visa costs “could further hinder their critical work on the ground”, she said.
South Sudan, formed in 2011 following a split from the north, declared famine in two counties in late February.
The United Nations said on Saturday more than 7.5 million people were in need of assistance in the country.
The crisis has “man-made” origins, according to the UN and humanitarian organizations, as a civil war started in 2013 has forced people to flee, disrupted agriculture, sent prices soaring and cut off aid agencies from the worst-hit areas.
Aid agencies also say their workers have been subject to harassment and attacks, while the UN described the looting of “humanitarian assets”.
Julien Schopp, of InterAction, an umbrellas organization for 180 NGOs working worldwide, said “if the fee hike measure is put into practice, it will be impossible for humanitarian workers to pay this kind of sum”.
But Michael Makuei, South Sudan’s information minister, said on Thursday the new fees for foreign workers were already in effect and confirmed they applied to aid workers.
Meanwhile, Reuters news agency is reporting that rebels in South Sudan have abducted eight aid workers with the Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian International Relief organization based in Boone, North Carolina.
The kidnappers are demanding food as ransom, according to Reuters. w/pix of So.Sudanese woman