Displaced families deserve to realise their dream of returning home – UNMISS chief
When civil war broke out in South Sudan, thousands of families fled their homes and sought sanctuary at the United Nations base in Wau.
Many have lived in the special protection site in the Western Bahr El Ghazal region of the conflict-affected country for almost six years now, including children born in the camp who have spent their entire life living in a tent.
With the signing of a peace agreement last year, the overall levels of violence have reduced, giving many displaced families the confidence to return to their homes. In Wau, that process has seen the number of people living in the UN Protection of Civilians site drop from 39,000 to around 14,000.
“UNMISS is actively supporting the returns process. We have transported people by barge, helicopter, and in convoys of trucks to areas of potential return so they can assess for themselves whether it is safe to go home,” says the Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, David Shearer.
“We will never force people to leave a protection site. But we should do everything we can to realise the dreams of people who want to rebuild their lives in their own home. To deny them that wish is wrong.”
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General briefed media at a press conference in the capital Juba about the new mandate given to UNMISS by the United Nations Security Council. The mandate now specifically includes the facilitation of safe, voluntary and dignified returns as one of the Mission’s core activities to protect civilians.
UNMISS will therefore step up its work with humanitarian partners to ensure that displaced families have a safe and supported environment to return to, particularly in terms of access to basic services.
Other changes to the mandate will enable UNMISS to better support the peace process by providing experts to assist with security arrangements, resolution of boundary disputes, as well as to support transitional justice and accountability measures. This more flexible and proactive approach is particularly important as the target date for the establishment of a new transitional Government of South Sudan looms on May 12.
David Shearer says the new mandate enables the Mission to continue, and actually step up, its efforts to support the peace process.”
“My very strong view is that there is no Plan B. There is only a Plan A – the peace agreement that we have in front of us – and this path forward. But, for it to have a chance to work, the agreement needs to be supported,” he says.