South Sudan plans to ban foreign aid workers despite fears of famine
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South Sudan plans to ban foreign aid workers despite fears of famine

Washington: South Sudanese authorities have announced they are planning to ban foreign workers by October 15; a move that could also affect foreigners employed by aid agencies in the world's newest country.

The report comes amid a rapidly deteriorating food security situation in the East African country, which has suffered through months of civil war.

South Sudanese receive aid in January this year in Minkammen, near Bor.

South Sudanese receive aid in January this year in Minkammen, near Bor.Credit:AFP

In late July, the United Nations Security Council expressed "grave concern" about the situation and described it as "currently . . . the worst [food insecurity situation] in the world".

About 50,000 children could die, the UN warned, and more than one-third of South Sudan's population was dangerously threatened.

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A child suffering from malnutrition is treated at a medical camp in March run by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

A child suffering from malnutrition is treated at a medical camp in March run by Medecins Sans Frontieres.Credit:AFP

Despite being heavily dependent on foreign aid, the South Sudanese government made the surprising announcement this week that it would attempt to fill many jobs currently occupied by foreigners with "competent South Sudanese nationals", the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Foreign aid agencies, hosting the world's largest humanitarian operation, would be strongly affected by the proposed rule.

Aimee Ansari, for Care Australia's international operation in South Sudan, said: "This is an unexpected announcement from South Sudan's Ministry of Labour. Without some of our international staff, our ability to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan would be severely hampered."

She said that just 6 per cent of their staff was from overseas.

A local aid worker prepares rations of sorghum in May to be distributed to refugees at the Yida refugee camp in Unity State, South Sudan.

A local aid worker prepares rations of sorghum in May to be distributed to refugees at the Yida refugee camp in Unity State, South Sudan. Credit:AFP

Tensions between aid agencies and the South Sudanese government have risen for months.

Matthew Herrick, a spokesman for the US Agency for International Development, said last month that the government of South Sudan and the opposition had utterly failed and put millions of people on the brink of famine.

Only their commitment to true peace, reconciliation and accountability would end this crisis and give donors access to the affected conflict areas, Mr Herrick said.

Marc Gross, a spokesman for Germany's Welthungerhilfe, among Europe's largest non-governmental aid agencies, expressed equally grave concern about the South Sudanese plan.

"There is no time to debate this question right now. Our employees will continue to deliver aid, no matter which threats are made against us," Mr Gross said.

He said his organisation and others had faced similar intimidation in a variety of countries before.

"However, the severity of the South Sudanese plan has reached a new, previously unknown level," he said.

If the South Sudanese government went ahead with the ban on foreign workers, it would make it much more difficult to operate in the country in general, let alone in the conflict zones where Western aid was needed most.

NGOs usually employ considerable numbers of locals, but foreigners often manage the operations.

The BBC reported that the order was thought to affect many management positions, as well.

"If this order were to come into effect, it would massively disrupt aid programs across the country," Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's director in South Sudan, told AFP.

From June to August, at least 400,000 South Sudanese were displaced because of violence and a looming hunger catastrophe. Of that number, 90,000 sought refuge abroad.

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