As Sudan crisis continues, twice displaced returnees in Renk, South Sudan, face mounting challenges

unmiss united nations sudan crisis returnees renk south sudan peace security women violence fighting transit refugee

As the Sudan crisis continues, hundreds of thousands have crossed porous borders to neighbouring South Sudan in search of safety. Many are returnees who once left this young nation to escape war and, now, find themselves once again having to battle enormous odds to rebuild their lives. Photo by Ines Surwumwe/UNMISS

23 Aug 2023

As Sudan crisis continues, twice displaced returnees in Renk, South Sudan, face mounting challenges

Ines Surwumwe

UPPER NILE – It’s been akin to reliving a nightmare, says 43-year-old Nyariek Moumker Ayen who has spent days on the road with three children, desperate to reach the safety of her country, South Sudan, after fighting broke out in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where she was living.

Currently in the relative safety of a transit center for returnees in Renk, Upper Nile, she recounts her experiences.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard gunshots and shelling,” she revealed. “My husband and I moved to Sudan to escape the civil war in South Sudan. And look where fate has brought us again. We are twice displaced."

Every day since April, some 1,000 people are crossing porous borders between South Sudan’s Upper Nile state and its northern neighbour, Sudan, looking for safety and humanitarian support. In total, more than 230,000 individuals are estimated to have entered the world’s newest nation, which itself is in the grip of unceasing conflict cycles.

The large majority are returnees, some of whom—thanks to unceasing efforts by humanitarian Agencies, Funds and Programmes—have been transported onwards from their entry points to different locations across the country. Others, such as Nyariek, are living in temporary transit sites.

Renk alone has the highest number of returnees and refugees, who are housed in these centers.

Their needs are massive, as is the trauma they have endured.

The Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) has been working tirelessly since the first arrivals began trickling in five months ago.

“With no end in sight to the violence in Sudan, people are still headed our way in South Sudan. Our observation is that women and children constitute the highest numbers and, worryingly, we see a lot of unaccompanied minors,” says Deng Lual Ajack, the RRC’s Deputy Director.

“We are doing the best we can but there is a dire lack of food, clean water and medicine,” he adds.

Whether in the turbulent journey to safety or in these temporary shelters, women and children are the most affected.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) during its daily patrols in and around the transit center at Renk often meets with them.

During one such patrol, visiting peacekeepers spoke to 72-year-old Josephine Ameni Ajak.

Under the tent that serves as a clinic, Josephine is waiting for a nurse to treat her wounds. Sitting on a plastic chair, shielding her face from the sun, she narrates her story to the UNMISS team.

“I got injured while escaping the fighting in Sudan. We were many people jostling around and I fell, hurt my knee. It was painful. But our physical wounds will heal; what hurts me most is that we fled South Sudan to escape violence and find peace in Sudan. Now we are in the same situation 10 years later; we have returned with nothing,” says Josephine.

Humanitarian partners are urgently calling on the international community for more resources to provide assistance upon arrival, during transit and in places of final settlement.

For its part, UNMISS continues to interact with returnees, host communities, government, and humanitarians, while keeping a keen eye on security risks that could, potentially, be a threat to these vulnerable civilians.

“We have established a robust security monitoring system and an effective response plan in case of any potential threats to civilian lives. We have reinforced the UNMISS base in Renk with additional troops to be prepared for any eventuality,” stated Paul Ebikwo, Acting Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Malakal.

But despite joint efforts, needs continue to outpace resources in Renk and more must be done before these returnees can begin rebuilding their lives.