First Protection of Civilians site successfully closed in South Sudan as families choose to return home
After four years living in cramped conditions, families are finally leaving the protected camp next to the United Nations base in Melut to return to their homes.
Hundreds of people have sought sanctuary at the site since civil war broke out in South Sudan four years ago. A recent count registered 562 people remaining. As security has improved, those in the camp expressed the desire and confidence to return to their homes.
After extensive consultation, more than half were settled in the nearby town this week while 255 were relocated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), UNHCR and other humanitarian partners.
Some families went back to their former villages while others with specific protection needs shifted to the UN protection site at Malakal where there were emotional scenes as many were reunited with relatives they had been separated from for years.
Martha Deng who has been living at the Melut site for nearly four years travelled on a UN flight back to Malakal with her six children.
“I have made the decision to relocate to Malakal with my children because I have many relatives there and I will be protected and safe,” she said.
“We’ve got instability across much of South Sudan but in some areas, like Melut, we are able to help people out of the camps back to their homes. For them, reuniting with their friends and family and getting back to creating a life for themselves, it’s a great feeling,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer.
Protecting civilians is primarily the South Sudan government’s responsibility but, in many cases, people have fled from government security forces. UNMISS provides sanctuary to almost 210,000 civilians at seven locations across South Sudan. These camps are a last resort and exist only to shelter people who genuinely fear for their lives. The focus is on returning them to their homes.
“We will look at every camp individually to see if the conditions allow people to go back. They have to go back voluntarily. They obviously have to go back safely,” said David Shearer. “But where those conditions are present then we will try to get people back to their own homes. Camps are not a good place to bring up children or to be seen as a long-term option. They can only be a temporary option.”
Humanitarian agencies worked closely with those at the Melut camp prior to its closure, providing counselling, information on the security situation and ensuring access to relief services back in their communities.
“This is going to support them to ensure that they settle well moving out of the POC into the community. This support is going to be crucial for them to settle well into their new environment and continue living a life in the little comfort that everybody else can achieve in South Sudan in the current situation that we have,” said UNHCR Senior Protection Officer, Andreas Fuyadomo.
The closure of the Melut site will enable peacekeeping troops there to shift their focus from guarding the camp to increasing patrols in the surrounding area.
“Protection goes beyond just POC sites so our troops that will stay in Melut will now be utilized to offer services doing patrols, interacting with communities to build confidence, support humanitarian partners to access different areas, not only in Melut but also doing outreach patrols in other different areas,” said UNMISS Relief, Reintegration and Protection Section’s Sam Muhumure.
Extending that protective presence into other communities will save lives and build confidence so that, over time, more people will feel safe enough to return home.