UNMISS tours Renk borders to assess security and economic condition of people fleeing the Sudan conflict
UPPER NILE – The ongoing crisis in Sudan has led to an influx of returnees and refugees in South Sudan who are fleeing for their lives, entering the country via Renk in Upper Nile state.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and humanitarian partners have been working overtime to protect these twice displaced civilians and ensure aid is received by the most vulnerable.
Recently, the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs Division embarked on a seven-day patrol to visit border entry points in Renk
Their aim: To get a firsthand update on the security and economic situation on the ground.
“We have been consistently engaging with local authorities and have been hearing of intercommunal tensions among the newly returned,” revealed Yoseph Damena, a Civil Affairs Officer from the UNMISS Field Office in the state.
“We, therefore, felt that given the already tense atmosphere in Malakal due to clashes between two displaced communities at the UN Protection Site around 10 days ago, it’s wise for us to come and engage with people directly,” he added.
For his part, Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of UNMISS has stressed last week that he’s keenly aware of the pressure on South Sudanese communities – especially due to competition over scarce resources – that new arrivals have created.
“These triggers of conflict will continue to exist. We need to recognize them and take the steps in the communities who are facing these pressures and handle them in a peaceful way,” stated the top UN official.
While UNMISS and humanitarians are actioning a coordinated response by providing security, shelter and food to the conflict-affected, the situation, according to Mr. Damena, is critical, given the onset of heavy rains.
His assessment is borne out by Angelina Okech, a returnee from Sudan.
“We need to be relocated to our places of origin,” she states. “The rains are coming and we are scared of catching waterborne diseases that we can transfer to our children. We have suffered enough and just want to go to our homes,” she adds.
Angelina’s words are also borne out by host communities.
“You will find every home completely cramped and congested,” reveals Chol Dau Ayiik, the paramount chief of Renk.
“Living in such close proximity, problems are bound to emerge among different ethnic affiliations. We are trying to do our best to keep the peace among us, but the situation is tough,” he avers.
Among the other challenges recorded by the visiting civilian peacekeepers is the rapid price increase of basic commodities in various markets in Upper Nile, including Renk, Kodok and Malakal town.
Many returnees say that they fear this drastic price hike owes its origins to commodities being smuggled in from across the border.
For its part, UNMISS is liaising with state and county authorities as well as humanitarian partners to ensure that new arrivals are safe and have the assistance they need. The Mission is also working on community engagements to promote peaceful coexistence.
As of Saturday, some 100,000 people are estimated to have crossed the border into South Sudan; 90 per cent of whom are South Sudanese. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is assisting returnees to fly from Malakal to Juba, their final destination.