The abduction of ten aid workers in South Sudan – one of many over the past five years – has highlighted the risks and dangers humanitarian workers routinely face in the country. South Sudan has been mired in civil war since 2013, just two years after it first gained independence from Sudan.
The aid workers disappeared in the southern part of the country while travelling from Yei, in the south, to the town of Tore, in the northwest. Currently the whereabouts and wellbeing of the abductees is unknown as is the identity of the group that abducted them. The workers were made up of three UN staff members, along with those from both Africa-based and international aid groups, which are desperately needed in South Sudan. Assistance is becoming more difficult to provide due to the growing violence and increasing risk to aid workers who are often caught in the violence and used as leverage by both government forces and rebel groups in order to stop the flow of humanitarian aid in high-risk areas.
In a statement, the UN has called for the release of the abductees “without condition so that their work can continue.” Alain Noudehou, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, also stated that humanitarian workers “should not be targeted” as they are “here to help the people of South Sudan.” The executive director of NGO Community Empowerment for Progress Organization Edmund Yakani said there has been a sharp incline in the number of aid workers being targeted by armed militants and used “as a weapon of war.” Active rebel groups in the area have denied any involvement in the abduction.
South Sudan’s ongoing war has created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the country, making it more difficult to provide disaster relief year after year due to the increasing violence, lack of access to areas in need and dwindling numbers of aid workers. Since the war began, almost 100 workers have been killed – the majority of them South Sudanese. Moreover, in the last six months alone, aid convoys have been abducted and held by militant groups three times.
The increasing violence of this civil war has caused a humanitarian disaster desperately in need of aid and relief, additionally creating a dangerous work environment for those who want to help, forcing fewer to operate in South Sudan. Aid workers need to be better protected so they could reach those most-needed areas of humanitarian aid. It is reprehensible that armed groups would target them in order to cut off the much-needed civilian supplies.
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