UNMISS leads team assessing humanitarian situation of 18,000 “redisplaced” in Akobo

unmiss south sudan akobo jonglei returnees redisplaced persons refugees sudan ethiopia gambella protection of civilians humanitarian assistance

Insufficient food supplies and a lack of adequate shelter were observed by an UNMISS-led delegation visiting returnees in Akobo. Photos: Mach Samuel/UNMISS

28 Aug 2023

UNMISS leads team assessing humanitarian situation of 18,000 “redisplaced” in Akobo

Mach Samuel/Filip Andersson

JONGLEI – There is no place like home, the saying goes, but one would be forgiven for wondering what exactly home is for many thousands of redisplaced South Sudanese people. Redisplaced, yes, as they have now returned to South Sudan, fleeing violence in the neighbouring countries they once sought refuge in when armed conflict forced them to leave their places of birth.

More than 18,000 returnees, with more expected to come, are currently in Akobo, with some 95 per cent of them having arrived not from war-torn Sudan but from Ethiopia. They have chosen to make the arduous trek here because of ethnically fuelled violence within refugee camps in the Ethiopian Gambella region.

“Men are being targeted by the warring communities. There is no food in the camp but plenty of intercommunal fighting and lots of burglaries. I came here hoping for humanitarian assistance, and maybe relatives will be able to pay for my children to travel here as well,” said Simon Nyang Deng to a delegation visiting Akobo to assess humanitarian needs on the ground. His two wives and twelve children are still in Ethiopia as the ten-day journey to South Sudan was deemed too much for them.

Simon and other returnees are staying at three makeshift camps in town, one of which is the headquarters of the Diocese of the Episcopal Church. While protection is being provided by patrolling peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), other needs, not least food and adequate shelter, are urgent.

The international community should hear our voices and come to the rescue,” said Nyajuba Nyang, a redisplaced woman who fled to Ethiopia from South Sudan in 2013. “On my way here, two of my seven children died,” she added.

Intercommunal and ethnically motivated fighting is the root cause of people desperately leaving the Ethiopian refugee camps. Apart from the lethal violence itself, the prevailing insecurity also means that humanitarian assistance cannot reach its destination, meaning that there is a severe shortage of food.

“Women won’t passively accept seeing their children dying. They will go outside the camps to look for food, but when they do so, many have been attacked and some of them killed,” explained Simon Nyang Deng.

Geetha Pious, Head of the UNMISS Field Office for Jonglei State and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, led the fact-finding delegation to Akobo. Much like Nyajuba Nyang, she appeals to the government and the international community to mitigate the dire humanitarian situation of the returnees, most of whom are women and children.

“Some of the South Sudanese arriving from Sudan are coming home for the first time since independence [in 2011]. Many returnees are calling this their ‘final destination’ and yet here they are, resettling in open places without sufficient food or shelter,” noted Geetha Pious, adding that resources in South Sudan were already scarce before the influx of refugees coming back from neighbouring countries.

The lion part of those returning come from Sudan, with most of them first arriving in the border town of Renk. According to the latest figures, more than 230,000 people have reached Renk from Sudan, with the overwhelming majority being South Sudanese.