‘We want our land back,’ say post-conflict returnees
Returnees in the Jonglei area have advocated the setting up of land dispute commissions to assist in arbitration and mediation that would ensure that land is returned to its rightful owners.
The former refugees and internally displaced persons were speaking at the end of a consultative workshop on creating an enabling environment for returnees in their areas of origin.
“After several years outside those communities, it is important that we get our land and properties back,” said Gai Abraham, who was sad that several returnees from a refugee camp in Uganda did not have a place of their own now, although they had land and property before the onset of the conflict.
Organized by the Relief, Reintegration and Protection Section of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the workshop sought to create awareness among all stakeholders regarding the high rate of displaced people returning into communities, and the need to provide them with minimum support to help them resettle and reintegrate. It also aimed at facilitating discussions that would map out the basic needs of returnees.
Other participants said they were worried since it seemed there were no clearly laid out plans for returnees, and urged the government, humanitarian agencies, and the international community to come to their aid.
“I came with five other friends. Our conclusion is that it seems no preparation has been made for us, and we must be helped to get back onto our feet,” said Ayul Chuol.
An increasing number of displaced people are returning to their homes and villages, where they lived before the outbreak of the conflict in 2013.
It is estimated that two million South Sudanese fled the country when war broke out in 2013. A further two million displaced people were scattered across the country, with more than 200,00 seeking sanctuary in UNMISS protection sites, where many remain today. A million of them found refuge in neighbouring Uganda, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
Attending the opening session of the consultative meetings, Jonglei Governor Philip Aguer urged UNMISS and partners to implement more activities on the ground in areas of return.
“The state government encourages all partners to mobilize resources that will allow provision of needed services to returnees,” said Aguer, adding that planning was the beginning of success.
He also encouraged government ministries to be fully involved, as it was part of the government’s responsibility to deliver to its citizens.
Participants at the meeting also urged the government to create awareness on the revitalized peace agreement and the justice system, and called on humanitarian actors to coordinate service delivery.