S outh Sudanese officials have announced new visa regulations that charities say threaten their ability to provide life-saving aid. The move came a day before a UN official named the country as one of four at risk of “starving to death”.
On March 9, South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei said visa fees would immediately rise from $100-300 to $1,000-10,000, sparking an outcry among international aid groups. Elizabeth Deng of Amnesty International warned that the new price is “impossible” to pay, and will severely hinder aid groups’ ability to operate in the country.
Returning from a tour of East Africa and the Middle East, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that 7.5 million people were in urgent need of aid in South Sudan, a 1.4 million spike from the year before.
“The situation is worse than it’s ever been,” he said, warning of similar crises in northern Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia. “More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across [South Sudan].”
We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN.”
South Sudan has been wracked by civil war since December 2013, leaving millions without adequate food in what is largely a man-made catastrophe. In February, the UN and national government declared a famine in Unity State - a fiercely contested northern region - the first time the term has been officially used since 2011.
Now the South Sudanese government has been condemned for appearing to capitalise on the crisis. Casie Copeland, senior South Sudan analyst at Crisis Group, told The World Weekly that “the government is seeking to raise revenue in a time of economic hardship.” If implemented, she said, the visa hike “will pull money directly from populations in famine conditions or at risk of famine.”
President Salva Kiir’s government has also been accused of blocking food aid to certain regions. Despite his denials, speculation abounds that the price increase is politically motivated.
Charity workers already face many obstacles in South Sudan. Two American's were kidnapped from Unity State this week, and there are also widespread reports of looting and harassment. Ms. Copeland added that the warring factions often fail to distinguish apolitical humanitarian groups from human rights groups who are more critical of the government.
Two humanitarian organisations operating in South Sudan did not wish to describe working conditions there, fearing reprisal.