Local authorities, displaced persons and UNMISS in Bentiu decide joint measures to tackle armed robberies in the mission’s Protection of Civilians site
While nationwide efforts are ongoing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across South Sudan, displaced people living in UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites continue to face other challenges as they go about their daily lives.
Take the case of people residing at the UNMISS PoC site in Bentiu, in the Unity region of South Sudan, who report a significant rise in armed robberies within their camp.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not our only problem as displaced people. The increase in criminality and armed robberies within the camp is a matter of grave concern for all of us,” said Gabriel Mawich Jal, Chair of the Community High Committee at the camp, at a meeting with national authorities that took place on 17 April 2020.
“Many of these criminals are from neighbouring areas; they plan their robberies well and even hide weapons in the vegetation surrounding the site, as they wait to enter the camp,” added Mr. Jal.
For her part, Hiroko Hirahara, Head of Bentiu Field Office, UNMISS, highlighted that that the primary responsibility of protecting civilians living in these sites lies with government authorities, though UNMISS remains committed to providing physical protection for displaced populations in Bentiu despite severe operational restrictions that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
“It is the first time that community leaders from the PoC site have requested local authorities to combat criminality,” said Ms. Hirahara.
Participants at the meeting unanimously decided that joint government and opposition police forces will conduct regular patrols to deter criminal activities within and in the immediate vicinity of the site. They also agreed to share relevant information and collaborate frequently to ensure the safety of civilians living in the camp.
It was arranged that two police posts shall be erected along the main road adjacent to the PoC site and UNMISS gates. These will be jointly manned at all times of the day and night by government and opposition police forces, while UNMISS and the UN agencies, funds and programmes will provide in-kind contributions, such as containers, water tanks, plastic sheets, shelter materials, cooking utensils, first aid kits and hygiene materials, for these posts.
“We are heartened by the commitment of the government and opposition police forces coming together to provide 24/7 policing for displaced people living here. This is a wonderful example of how the security of South Sudanese citizens should be maintained,” stated Ms. Hirahara.
“United Nations Police (UNPOL) serving with UNMISS will continue patrolling in the site and complement the work of joint police forces,” she added.
The Bentiu PoC site was established by UNMISS in January 2014 following massive displacements on account of the civil war in December 2013. The camp currently houses more than 118,385 displaced persons. From January-April 2020, the UN in Bentiu recorded some 158 crimes at the PoC site, including violations of camp policies and domestic violence.
Given the frequent occurrence of criminal activities, Mr. Jal expressed his gratitude to police authorities and UNMISS for their swift, proactive action in stepping up security measures to ensure the safety of the camp’s residents: “We are very thankful to UNMISS and police authorities for prioritizing our safety and security. These joint patrols will go a long way in preventing crime and build confidence of those most affected by conflict can lead lives free of fear,” he said.