Displaced families receive a joyous welcome home after leaving UN protection site
As the sun begins to rise over the sea of white tents dotted throughout the United Nations protection camp, a group of families are already up and about, bustling around as they pack their belongings and prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
The families have lived in the protection site in the capital of South Sudan for almost six years after seeking sanctuary from the violent conflict that erupted during the outbreak of civil war. Some of the children were even born in the camp and have never experienced life outside.
With a reduction in violence following the signing of a new peace agreement, these families and many others now have the confidence they need to return to their homes.
After gathering up the few personal belongings they have, the group of 86 women and children wave goodbye to their friends and climb onto buses that take them to the UN’s air terminal.
Five helicopters head out one after the other, ferrying them north across the country to their former home in Yuai – the Jonglei region of South Sudan. As they touch down, a welcoming committee is waiting for them. It is an emotional reunion as friends and family who haven’t seen them for years embrace the new arrivals and cheer with delight that they have finally come home.
“I had wanted to come home since last year but couldn’t make it,” says one woman as she steps off the helicopter. “Now I thank God that am here in Yuai with my children. I believe that my suffering is finally over.”
Since the peace agreement was signed last September, more than 27,000 people have left protection sites located next to UN bases around the country. Another 3000 people have also recently expressed a desire to go home. The returns process is a major logistical exercise involving UNMISS and humanitarian partners, including UNHCR which is the lead agency. Those returning are grateful for the protection they have received but are excited to be back home with their loved ones.
“I thank UN for the six years they have been hosting us in the Protection of Civilians site. It is good work that they have protected victims until we reach the point where we can survive on our own,” says one man travelling with his family.
It is a rewarding experience for the UN peacekeepers too as they witness the safe return of the families they have supported and kept safe.
“By sending them back to the environment that they love with their relatives, that is also a way of providing protection,” says UNMISS Relief, Reintegration and Protection officer, Kevin Mutua Mutune. “They are moving from a situation where is like they’ve been locked in. But when they go back home, they are now free to do things like cultivation, farming, fishing, business, some people will even go back to school. So, we are trying facilitate them to move on with their life.”
This group of returnees represent just a few of the millions of refugees and internally displaced families who are beginning their journey home as peace spreads across the country and the brighter and more prosperous future they’ve been dreaming of finally becomes a reality.