UN and community watch group work together to improve safety at Bentiu protection site
Crime and violence at the United Nations protection site in Bentiu has dropped significantly as the result of a joint effort between UN security staff and a community watch group set up by those who have sought sanctuary at the site.
More than 115,000 internally displaced people live at the site in the northern region of South Sudan after fleeing ongoing violence that has plagued the country since civil war erupted in 2013. Originally designed to accommodate 60,000 people, the protection site adjacent to the UN base is now the largest in South Sudan.
Comparable to a small town with schools, shops and health care facilities, the site provides refuge and vital social services for its inhabitants but it also attracts criminal activity and gang violence.
However, a shared commitment to maintaining the site as a safe haven by the UN Police (UNPOL), the Ghanaian Formed Police Unit (FPU) and a group of volunteers from the Community Watch Group (CWG) is making a huge difference to crime rates.
The UN Protection of Civilians (POC) site coordinator, Francis Yiribaare, said each group contributes different but complementary skills that are vital to maintaining a safe and secure environment.
“The watch groups are the eyes and ears within the communities. They know the geography and the culture much better than the United Nations Police might know,” said Francis Yiribaare. “We needed the community watch volunteers to come and to assist UNPOL in advancing its mandate, particularly in the protection of civilians.”
He said that the armed Formed Police Unit was also taking a more “robust” approach and was better equipped.
“Through the support of the community, the watch group, the community leadership, we have witnessed a reduced crime situation. Armed robberies, rapes, gangster fighting and also ordinary fighting have also seen reduced indexes,” said Francis Yiribaare.
Residents of the Bentiu POC site say they feel more secure because of the presence and visibility of the joint patrols.
“It is twenty-four hours where you see UNPOL and CWG patrolling. UNPOL and the community watch group are always on the road. They are moving 24 hours,” said resident Zacharia Manyang Puok.
James Mading Hoth has been a member of the Community Watch Group for four years. He is proud to act as the bridge between the internally displaced people and UN security personnel.
“We volunteer ourselves because we have seen that the United Nations Police have come here to protect our lives and security and that is why I have committed four years as a community watch group volunteer to provide protection to our IDPs,” said James Mading Hoth, who is also the Secretary-General of the watch group.
James Hoth says, with the support of the community, the watch group will continue working together with the UN security forces to maintain security and stability at the Bentiu POC site until the time comes when it is safe to leave and rebuild their lives back home
“Our elders, youth and the women group appreciate the work that we are doing to protect them,” he said. “They came to us and encouraged us to continue until God will give the chance for peace to leave this place to go outside.”