UN considering new base on western bank of Nile to give South Sudanese refugees confidence to return
It is a long journey from the capital Juba to reach remote communities on the West Bank of the Nile.
First, it takes an early morning flight to Malakal over its large United Nations protection site, then a short hop via helicopter to Kodok, and finally an hour-long ride with the Bangladeshi riverine patrol.
The trip is an opportunity for the Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to assess potential sites for a new peacekeeping base. There are a number of factors in favour of establishing a presence in Kodok.
“Firstly, we don’t have a presence on the western bank of the Nile and it is very difficult to get here if we don’t have a presence already,” says UNMISS head and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer. “Secondly, while the security situation is the responsibility of the Government, I think it would be a positive step if we can provide confidence and add to that sense of stability so that people can come back. Thirdly, humanitarian organizations may be encouraged to establish themselves here if the UN has a regular presence.”
Along with a boom in the local wildlife in the form of a resident, loved, and protected tame ostrich, people are also beginning to return to the area. The market is still very short on supplies but it is beginning to bustle with activity. Children are also back in school, eager to return to their lessons.
The community wants the UN to set up a base to provide a protective presence for refugees returning from camps in Sudan and for internally displaced people. It is hoped that, with their return, life will begin to return to normal.
There is also hope that the second round of talks during the High Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa will help build durable peace in Kodok and across South Sudan.
“The hope for peace is the wish of everybody,” says Fashoda State Deputy Governor, Nyiker Okoth Awin. “We are still hopeful that the coming round of talks will bring peace, not the same day, but that it is a process that will start from that day, as people start negotiating and put away their differences and work for consultative peace.”
Locals say the UN’s help with this process and bringing peace to Kodok is vital.
“People are coming from many different places and they need food. We also need a reliable water supply and the bridge needs to be rebuilt,” said Paramount Chief Paulino Tipo. “We need the UN to protect the citizens here so they can come back safely.”
Down the river from Kodok, it is not such a welcoming environment.
Wau Shilluk has the appearance of a ghost town although it is difficult to know what is going on behind the multitude of large corrugated iron-type compounds.
The UN team’s access to the town is limited by local authorities to the main street. In the past few days, 100 people have left Wau Shilluk for the safety of the nearby protection site at Malakal and there appear to be very few women and children left in the town.
The Governor for the Central Upper Nile, James Tor Munybuny, says that is because of a lack of services in the area and many people are choosing to return to the surrounding villages rather than the town itself.
Malakal was one of the worst hit areas during the height of the civil war. Today, the security situation has improved with people moving freely between the UN protection site and the town during the day.
“Malakal has seen a lot of changes. The security situation here is quite calm. You can see there is peace,” says the Governor. “Now we need to move away from emergency management to increasinge the level of partnerships to build the capacity of the community and try to change the humanitarian situation by improving the most basic infrastructure, like schools, health facilities, and water points for the growing population in town.”
The focus across this region is building trust and confidence so that families can safely return to their homes and look forward to a peaceful and prosperous future.