UN envoy in South Sudan, High Commissioner for Refugees visit Bentiu, discuss security needs and voluntary returns
With a slow but steady decline of political violence across South Sudan, refugees as well as internally displaced people have started returning to their places of origin.
Creating conducive conditions for people displaced by conflict to re-unite with their families and loved ones, years after civil war devastated the world’s newest country, therefore, was the focus of a joint two-day visit to Bentiu, Unity state, undertaken by David Shearer, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan and Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which took place on 26-27 January 2021.
“With a peace deal and a transitional government of national unity in place, South Sudan is on the cusp of establishing itself as a true democracy,” said Mr Shearer, who heads the peacekeeping mission, UNMISS. “Many people who were forced to leave their homes, their lands and their families when violence was at its peak, now, more than ever, need our collective support to make sure they can return to their original villages and rebuild their lives.”
In this regard, SRSG Shearer held a meeting with the Governor of Unity state, Dr. Joseph Monytuil, to discuss cross-cutting issues across the region and areas where UNMISS could assist local authorities such as empowering and building capacity among rule of law actors, providing support to peace forums and outreach on social cohesion to encourage voluntary returns of displaced people or refugees to their original homes, ongoing civilian disarmament, and quick responsiveness from UNMISS peacekeepers in mitigating seasonal farmer-herder conflicts or intercommunal tensions.
For his part, Governor Montyuil, while reiterating the state government’s commitment to improving overall security, noted that the absence of essential services or support packages required by returning citizens to re-establish livelihoods is a challenge that could, potentially, dissuade people from wanting to come back to their original settlements.
High Commissioner Grandi, who was present during these discussions, reinforced UNHCR’s longstanding support to South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries and acknowledged the need for viable conditions for returns, while reinforcing that the foremost prerequisite for returning refugees is stable security conditions across the Unity region.
“We’re always ready to help our South Sudanese counterparts as they continue establishing strong state and national institutions for the people of this country and a key aspect of that is for UNMISS to be nimble, proactive and agile when it comes to preventing or deescalating violence,” said SRSG Shearer, after the meeting.
“In the past couple of months, we have started moving our peacekeepers out to hotspots where conflict is either imminent or has recently flared up, by establishing temporary operating bases in these locations. I’m pleased that our more mobile, proactive approach is working well across the nation and here in Unity state where peacekeepers have deployed to remote areas such as Koch and Mayom. We aim to continue such peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, help in any way we can to make sure security conditions are stable and people who have been displaced can finally go back to where they belong.”
Additionally, SRSG Shearer and High Commissioner Grandi, met with new returnees at Hai Salam in Rubkona and travelled to Panakuach, a border located along the South Sudan-Sudan highway which serves as an entry point for returning refugees from the country’s northern neighbour, where they interacted with border officials and were briefed on current procedures in place to facilitate such movements.
Another key agenda point for the SRSG was the upcoming re-designation of the UN Protection Site in Bentiu into a conventional camp for internally displaced people. “Nobody will be asked to leave the site once the transition is completed. Humanitarian services will continue and UNMISS will keep patrolling in and around the camp, as we are doing in Bor, Juba and Wau which have already been re-designated as IDP camps under the sovereign protection of the Government of South Sudan,” said the Head of UNMISS at a meeting with representatives of the displaced community.
“Protecting all communities across South Sudan, which includes the displaced community living here in Bentiu, remains a top priority for us. The only real change in terms of a security posture by UNMISS once sites are re-designated is a reduction of peacekeepers on static duties because this enables us to do more patrols in areas where there is real need, be more agile and effective.”
“We are also working very closely with the South Sudanese police to build their capacity and train them in community policing practices so that they can effectively deal with issues such as criminality and thefts, which I understand is a concern. You will be seeing our UN Police co-located with their South Sudan National Police Services colleagues,” he added.
SRSG Shearer and Governor Montyuil signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the upcoming re-designation as well as agreed on additional training and logistical support to enable effective joint police operations within the Bentiu site once the redesignation is complete.
In addition to external engagements, the Head of UNMISS interacted with peacekeepers from Pakistan, Ghana and Mongolia serving in the Unity region and held a Town Hall meeting with UNMISS personnel located in the mission’s field office here.