Fear and uncertainty about their future main concerns for displaced persons sheltering in Yei, but UNMISS peacekeepers remain a beacon of hope

UNMISS south sudan yei displaced farmer herder lainya peacekeepers united nations peacekeeping protection of civilians

In Yei, people displaced after last year's conflict between nomadic herders and settled agriculturalists are still fearful of returning to their original settlements. UNMISS, local authorities and humanitarian partners are supporting them but their future remains uncertain. Photo by James Sokiri/UNMISS.

29 May 2022

Fear and uncertainty about their future main concerns for displaced persons sheltering in Yei, but UNMISS peacekeepers remain a beacon of hope

James Sokiri

CENTRAL EQUATORIA – Akiden Moses, a 55-year-old mother of 10, recalls the terror of an upsurge in conflict last year that forced her and hundreds of others to abandon their homes and flee in fear of their lives into the forests of Yei county in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state.

“It was a horrendous experience to live through,” she states, eyes darkening with remembered pain. “Nothing and no one was spared when the fighting began; women and girls were raped, houses vandalized and burnt to cinders; livestock looted, and many people were abducted. If there was a hell on earth, we saw it,” she avers bitterly.

Akiden and many others like her are now being temporarily hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Yei. Their suffering is prolonged and even amplified by a lack of food, healthcare, education for children and proper shelters. Often, a meager bowl of porridge is all they get to eat all day and they sleep hungry.

“Though we cannot pretend to be happy, living as visitors in our own country, I am still afraid of going back unless our government gives us a firm guarantee that such horrors will never be visited upon us again,” she adds firmly.

Her views are echoed by the entire displaced community in Yei who want concrete assurances of security from local and state authorities before they go back to where they belong to begin the slow, painstaking process of rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.

Bishop Levi Marandulu Yepete, of the Episcopal Diocese, understands their frustration, enumerating that displaced people deserve to feel safe and secure before turning their steps homewards.

“For peace to be manifest, sexual violence against women and killings as well as ambushes on our roadways must stop,” he asserts.

Local authorities are struggling to support the displaced.

“Prolonged conflict in South Sudan has resulted in donor fatigue. This, in turn, means displaced civilians are susceptible to disease, hunger, insecurity and, even, death,” reveals Moses Mabe, Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) Coordinator in Yei.

According to Mr. Mabe, RRC had received over 2,440 IDP individuals from more than 1,080 households, the majority of whom were children, women, and the elderly displaced by nomadic herders from areas within Yei and Lainya.

Support has come from partners such as the ECSS Diocese of Yei, UNMISS peacekeepers, Islamic Relief, International Committee of the Red Cross, Tearfand, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs who are rallying by providing makeshift shelters, emergency hot meals, medical aid, water, and the protection they need so desperately.

“We are grateful to all our partners, but we need a permanent solution to our problem,” Mr. Mabe explained. “The people of Yei are farmers, and the county was a breadbasket for South Sudan before civil war destroyed original ways of life. We need peace now for people to resume their livelihoods and usher in progress.”

For Bishop Yepete, UNMISS peacekeepers have been a beacon of hope ever since they deployed to Yei in 2017.  

 “I am convinced that if UNMISS Blue Helmets were not on the ground in Yei, many more would have died. But they have protected us, assured us there is light at the end of the tunnel and we are confident that the international community hasn’t forgotten us,” he stated.

Arthur Beingana, Acting Team Leader and Human Rights Officer with UN Peacekeeping mission in Yei reveals that peacekeepers deployed here have been been actively conducting advocacy campaigns between displaced communities, host community leaders and members of the organized forces to promote peaceful coexistence.

“Our peacekeepers also supply water to new arrivals, monitor human rights violations within the camps and conduct regular patrols to help deter attacks against civilians in order to build confidence within the population to encourage them to return home,” he adds.  

Timothy Wani, Executive Director, Yei River county, says that people need tangible proof that an inclusive peace exists.

“We need to feel, see, touch, and taste peace dividends. We need to feel its result in the market in terms of low commodity prices; we want to travel freely to and back from our villages without fear,” he avers passionately. “For our dreams to become a reality the peace agreement must be implemented in spirit and letter—it remains the only hope left for the people of South Sudan,” he adds.

Perhaps the most eloquent plea for a future free of war comes from 15-year-old Akim Data Arkangelo, who wants to become a teacher when he grows up.

“All I have known since I was born is violence, bloodshed, hunger, and the sound of guns. My heart desires one thing—a permanent peace so I can go to a better school, eat healthy food and look forward to a life without fear.”