UN police boost safety for women outside South Sudan protection sites
A group of women walk just outside a UN protection site in South Sudan’s capital Juba. The path is well trodden, but following abundant rain is overgrown with vegetation.
The cover provided by trees and high grasses can be a welcome break from the searingly hot South Sudanese sun, but it also can conceal attacks against passers-by.
One woman who didn’t want to be named said it was unsafe to leave the Juba camp known as POC3. “I am not at ease; whenever something happens, I jump and run.”
The UN peacekeeping operation, UNMISS, has provided sanctuary to some 213,000 people in Protection of Civilians or PoC sites around the conflict-affected country.
Security operations conducted by UN Police (UNPOL) in South Sudan around sites set up to protect civilians are helping to create more security for women.
Women who live in the sites have complained of being harassed and in some cases raped by gangs of men outside the camps.
With some 38,000 residents, PoC3 is the size of a small town and perhaps not surprisingly like any other town, there’s the risk of criminal activity.
Today, UN police officers are setting out to question young men in an area called Mango tree on a densely vegetated hill just outside the camp. They’re suspected of belonging to a criminal gang.
The Ground commander for the operation is the Namibian police officer, Deputy Commissioner Naftal Sakaria.
“The women use this road that passes through here to go and collect firewood. There were reports of harassment and robbery and in the past even rape. So it is important that we check the area to make sure there are no weapons and to warn them that we aware of activities that are taking place and if that continues, we will, next time, take action and hand them over to the local authority.”
Nine young men are rounded up and questioned, but they deny any involvement in a gang.
Neither weapons nor other incriminating evidence are found and the men are free to leave.
Major Fernanda Santos, an UNPOL officer from Brazil, says the people living in the camps appreciate the search operations.
“They are happy because the police are doing their job. The Ethiopian battalion and the Chinese battalion are also doing their job. They are very happy that we are here assuring they are safe.”
“ Visibility is an important part of police work,” she added, “not only engaging the community in awareness, but also showing we are here 24/7. So this brings more safety and a greater sense of security.”
The searches are key to maintaining the civilian nature of the protection sites and they build confidence outside the camps so that displaced people feel secure enough to return home and lead productive lives.