New model of cooperation proposed to enable displaced South Sudanese to return to their homes
The children of Wau should be looking forward to a future full of opportunities.
Instead, life is a constant struggle for survival, including access to food, clean water, healthcare, schooling, and shelter.
Thousands of families who have fled their homes in the Western Bahr El Ghazal region of South Sudan because of ongoing fighting between government and opposition forces.
“At that time, we were in the forest. We ran off from the forest. We came to see that it is very complicated for us to live at home with all the people during the night, people would, you know, knock on the door, come out, come out, you are going to die,” says one internally displaced resident of Wau.
They have gathered in makeshift camps in locations around the town, relying on humanitarian aid and each other to survive.
“Today was really sad because we drove through the village that a lot of these people have come from and it’s a beautiful village with trees and crops growing and often brick houses,” says the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, David Shearer. “It was one of those ideal kind of places and then you come here and people are living under plastic sheets to survive from one day to the next. That’s why people here do want to go home and living here is a very, very poor second option.”
On a visit to the camp in Wau, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General explained plans for a new approach to enable those displaced to return home to live in a safe, secure and supported environment until they are able to be self-sufficient again.
“What we have to do is work with the authorities here to make the situation on the ground feel that much safer, to have maybe backup there, to have our patrols working at night as well as during the day,” said David Shearer. The Governor and I talked about that today and if that happens maybe these people will feel a little more secure to go back.”
This new model of cooperation would involve UN peacekeepers and humanitarians working together intensively with local authorities, police, and national security services.
“We need an enabling environment for security to prevail in the whole of Wau and that enabling environment can only be guaranteed by the police and state government,” said John Mabior Malek from Change Maker South Sudan. “The bringing in of the military was mainly to fight the rebellion and of course now the level of rebellion of course has gone down. We have not seen rebel activity in the last three months around Wau so there will be no more need for the military to be intensively deployed around the town because that creates fear amongst the civilians.”
While army forces may need to relocate, humanitarian services will also need to be shifted from delivering on a collective level to targeting the most vulnerable individuals in communities.
Aid workers would need guaranteed safe access and secure buffer zones around communities may need to be established to ensure people can move freely and grow their crops safely. However, if the model works, it could be replicated across the country.
“I know that it’s challenging but you know there is no option. We should not surrender our desire to actually reach that end of the game that is actually making sure that people can go home, can stay in a better environment with their communities,” said Esteban Sacco, Deputy Head of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Sudan.
The UN protects just over 32,000 displaced people at a camp next to its Wau base. Living conditions are the most cramped of all the Protection of Civilian sites in South Sudan.
A reduction in violence in the town recently has encouraged almost six thousand to return to their homes.
But that sense of security needs to be more firmly established to encourage larger numbers of internally displaced people to re-establish themselves in their old communities.
“When we were driving back, there was a woman who just came running to the convoy screaming because she saw seven, eight or 10 cars of the UN and she was so excited to see the UN presence in Lokoloko. So that kind of a presence, it triggers that people feel confident. I’m not sure if we will be able to protect people but again it is the perception that by us being there they will probably be protected,” said Esteban Sacco.
For the people of Wau who have seen family members killed, had their homes looted, been beaten, and traumatized by the ongoing violence, it remains a difficult decision to make – when, or even if, it will be safe enough to finally take their families.