UN Protection of Civilians sites begin transitioning to conventional displacement camps
When civil war erupted across South Sudan in 2013, thousands of families fled to United Nations bases in fear for their lives.
The UN opened its gates and set up Protection of Civilians (POC) sites to provide them sanctuary. Seven years later, the security situation is much improved, and residents now move freely each day between the camp and town to attend school or university, shop at the market, and to work.
“The PoC sites were set up to protect people in imminent physical danger and they did so for many different ethnicities, for many years,” says the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer. “But today, many stay just to access services.”
Political violence has reduced significantly across the country in the wake of a peace deal and formation of a new Government. As a result, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan has begun to progressively withdraw its troops and police from the POC sites in Bor and Wau and will gradually do the same at other camps.
“That has occurred because we assessed that, any threats that existed a few years ago, are no longer in existence today,” says David Shearer. “Importantly, withdrawing from these sites, means those troops who were occupied at the POC sites can be redeployed to hotspots where peoples’ lives are in immediate danger, like in Jonglei.”
Approximately 600 people died during clashes between Dinka, Nuer and Murle in Jonglei over the past six months. About 160,000 have been displaced because of the conflict and heavy flooding. UNMISS has rapidly deployed peacekeepers to the areas most affected to deter further violence and to support reconciliation and mediation between the groups.
The Mission also quickly deployed to the area around Lobonok in the Central Equatorias where there have been a series of armed attacks on civilians and humanitarian convoys travelling on main supply routes. In one incident, two civilians were killed and four injured during an ambush by heavily armed men belonging to the National Salvation Front (NAS).
There have also been clashes between NAS and forces belonging to the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition with many civilians affected.
“These parties have all agreed to the Cessation of Hostilities or the Rome Declaration. They should live up to that commitment, stop fighting and protect communities instead of causing huge harm,” said David Shearer.
Once peacekeepers are withdrawn from the UN protection sites, they can be re-designated as more conventional camps for the internally displaced under the sovereign control of South Sudan, like similar sites across the country.
“Nobody will be pushed out or asked to leave when UNMISS withdraws. Humanitarian services will continue. It is just that the sites will no longer be under our jurisdiction and will be IDP camps, like so many others across the country,” he said. “It will be the government’s responsibility to find other land for these people to settle, to help them return to their homes or assist those who houses are occupied by others.”
In future, the South Sudan National Police Service will be responsible for law and order at the IDP camps. UN police officers have worked closely with their national counterparts for several months to build their capacity and will continue to do so. In Wau, Bor and Juba, criminal activity in the POCs is already being reported to local police and those arrested are handed over so that action can be taken.
South Sudan’s government has primary responsibility for protecting all its citizens and this will be extended to those living in the former PoC sites. If that protection is missing, UNMISS says it has a clear mandate to intervene and it will.
The Mission has emphasized that the newly named IDP camps will not be closed and people will not be forced to leave. Instead, with careful planning and support over time, it is hoped that the residents will voluntarily and safely return to their homes to live peaceful and prosperous lives.