Displaced families leave protection site to return home to Bentiu

unmiss south sudan bentiu protection of civilians security intercommunal fighting women children returnees voluntary returns

Nyahok Weka Gatwech having her hands disinfected before boarding the UNMISS flight taking her home to Bentiu after several years at the UNMISS protection of civilians site in Juba.

27 Mar 2020

Displaced families leave protection site to return home to Bentiu

Olivier Ndikumana

When civil war erupted in Juba in 2013, Nyapouk Maaliah Mathiang’s husband was among the many people who lost their lives during the battle that raged across the capital city.

Seven years later, she will finally get the chance to put him to rest after leaving a United Nations protection camp to return to her home in northern South Sudan.

“I came to Juba with my husband in 2010; however, he was killed in the outbreak of violence in 2013. Overnight, I was widowed and in the middle of a raging conflict with six children to look after,” reveals Ms. Mathiang. “I managed to find us shelter outside the UN mission in Juba which opened its doors to protect people like us at the time.”

She goes on to say that in the intervening years she did the best she could to provide for her family as a single mother. As the situation across the country gradually stabilized in the aftermath of more unrest and violence in 2016, she managed to get in touch with her siblings in Bentiu.

“I’m happy to be going back to meet my brother, my sister and their families. I will, hopefully, feel less alone and have more support in bringing up my children. More importantly, finally, perform traditional last rites for my husband; it has been my dearest wish in all these years of living as a displaced person,” she adds.

Ms. Mathiang is among four families, primarily women and children, who have been living for many in the Protection of Civilian site next the UN mission’s headquarters in Juba, who are finally returning home.

Yesterday, they boarded an UNMISS flight to return to their original settlements near Bentiu, in the Unity region of South Sudan.  

While many of these women speak of how their lives were directly impacted by conflict, the atmosphere is joyous and filled with hope for a peaceful future.

Another returnee, Nyanye Duol, explains how her entire family lives in Bentiu, including her husband and two of her seven children.

“I had travelled to Khartoum for some work when the conflict broke out here in 2013. It took me a while to return to Juba because of the situation; by that time, my family were already living in a makeshift shelter outside the UNMISS compound and I joined them.”

Improvements in technology and the gradual return of relative stability in Juba has allowed Ms. Duol to reestablish contact via mobile phones with her loved ones in Bentiu in the past couple of years. “Since last December my husband has been living in our original area. I’m very excited that all of us will be reunited today,” she adds.

Upon landing in Bentiu, officials of the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) received the families. Speaking at the short ceremony organised to mark the occasion, these officials highlighted improvements in the security situation across the country and urged all displaced persons as well as refugees to consider returning to their original settlements, reiterating their continued efforts to reunify families across South Sudan. They also expressed their gratitude for the ongoing support of UNMISS and humanitarian partners to voluntary returns.

The promise of reunification is perhaps best exemplified by Nyagoka Garluak Kuang, one of the young boys on the flight, who spoke about his commitment to rebuilding his village which has been devastated by armed conflict: “I left Bentiu at a time of chaos. Now that I have finally managed to return, I want to be a mechanic and teach our children the skills I have acquired in my time away from home. It is the only way we will build durable peace from the ground up.”