Seven staff members for U.S.-based Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse were released from their detention by “armed personnel” Tuesday in South Sudan’s famine- stricken area of Mayendit, and have been flown from Unity State to a safe location.
Samaritan’s Purse vice president of programs and government relations Ken Isaacs says local officials arrested them Monday.
“So I think there was some local dynamic involved, and we do not have all the those details right now, but what I can tell you very happily is that all of the staff has been released, and they are safe, that bit we know. But they have been released,” said Isaacs.
Isaacs says opposition forces and those loyal to the government warned his organization two weeks ago they were preparing to fight, so Samaritan’s Purse then evacuated between 12 and 15 foreign and South Sudanese aid workers who were not from Mayendit.
A request for response was not immediately returned from South Sudan’s information minister.
Detention vs kidnapping
Isaacs also clarifies that despite prior reports to the contrary, the situation was a detention and not a kidnapping.
“They were clearly held against their will, but we do not see it as a kidnapping. There was no ransom request made on us,” said Isaacs.
Samaritan’s Purse has been working with the World Food Program to distribute food in Mayendit for more than two years. And Isaacs says they plan to return.
“Oh, absolutely, yeah, we will go back, but we have got to have, we have got to work our way through it, and talk to the parties involved; we need some assurances that there is going to be civil behavior. And this war, and this factionalism, this tribalism that is going on in South Sudan, is incredibly destructive. And there is going to be no winners, there is only going to be more losers and more suffering, and more death,” he said.
The United Nations and the government of South Sudan say famine in two counties of Unity State, Mayendit and Leer, is affecting more than 100,000 people and warn it could spread further. Roughly half of South Sudan’s population is projected to be severely food insecure by July.
South Sudan’s government recently stated it would increase the work permit fee from $100 to $10,000 for each foreign aid worker.
South Sudan has become Africa’s biggest migrant crisis, as an estimated 1.5 million people have fled to neighboring countries. Tens of thousands of people have been killed since civil war broke out in December 2013.