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A woman waits to be registered prior to a food distribution carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Thonyor, Leer state, South Sudan, February 25, 2017.
Reuters/Siegfried Modola
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South Sudan is battling a famine, but will jack up permit fees for foreign aid workers by 100-fold

By Abdi Latif Dahir

In the midst of a devastating famine that is threatening nearly half its population, South Sudan has hiked the work permits fees for foreign aid workers by 100-fold.

The ministry of labor announced that from March 1, it will charge $10,000 for “professional” humanitarian workers up from around $100. It will now charge $2,000 for “blue collar” employees, and $1,000 for “casual workers,” according to Reuters. A majority of the foreign professionals in the country work for non-governmental agencies or are employed in the oil industry.

The move comes at a crucial time for the world’s youngest nation, which has been engulfed by the infighting between rival government and rebel forces. Since it began in late 2013, the war has led to the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, forced more than 1.5 million people to flee the country, devastated the economy, all while the leaders of the two opposing sides amassed millions of dollars in illegal wealth.

The violence has previously affected the operation of humanitarian agencies, with NGO workers assaulted and raped and food bases ransacked by government soldiers. In Dec. 2016, the government also detained and deported two officials from the Norwegian Refugee Council. Tensions have also simmered between the South Sudanese government and aid agencies in the past: in 2014, the government stated that it will ban aid workers from the country.

The announcement in South Sudan is not without a precedent in the region. In recent months, deep-seated aversion to foreign workers has come up in various countries across East Africa.

In February, Tanzania also gave foreign workers a 30-day ultimatum to foreign employees to verify their work permits and residencies. During a crackdown on workers without the necessary permit papers, the government arrested dozens of workers from India, China, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

In Kenya, the NGO board noted last year that it will revoke the licenses of organizations who do not harmonize the salary discrepancies between local and foreign staff. The country also deregistered almost 1,000 aid organizations for failure to account for their funding and introduced amendments to a law aimed at restricting external funding.