South Sudan: Battle drums beat for displaced to return to the land of broken agreements

Updated: Mar 9


SOUTH SUDAN: Refugees are asked to return to uncertainly while the internally displaced are shown no mercy.

South Sudan's government is blind to the reality of the violent return that their displaced citizens face when returning to their home villages. The expectation is for millions of their displaced population to come home ahead of national elections tentatively scheduled for 2023.

The people fled the country's devastating civil war that systematically ravished the country over the past 9 years. In 2018, a peace agreement was reached forming a unity government in name only.

The alphabet soup of United Nations agencies optimistically supports the return, hoping for peace and stability for the first time since the country’s independence in 2011. However, others believe the call to return is not of goodwill but to benefit officials who seek to build up the presence of the two majority tribes while ensuring that the fifty-four or so marginalized tribes – who would be inclined to vote against them – remain displaced. 

The numbers are beyond any mental grasp. 2.3 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, and 1.87 million have remained as internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the country due to significant flooding. Since the new peace deal, only 18,690 IDPs have returned to their home village.

South Sudan's refugee crisis is the largest in Africa and the third-largest refugee crisis globally. 

Those who fled the civil war are primarily camped across the Ugandan border to the south or pressed into Arab-held North Sudan. The vast majority (over 80 percent) of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children. Once crossing boundaries and making make-shift camps, families are subject to community conflict over scarce firewood that is needed to boil their unsafe water for drinking and bathing. 

Sadly, the current conditions of South Sudan do not facilitate the return of families.

Resources that would enable them to reconstruct their lives in the war-wasted land simply do not exist.

Security arrangements promised in the 2018 peace agreement remain unimplemented. Furthermore, the displacement of marginalized tribes is used as a tool of war. Militant forces prevent people from returning while allowing more agreeable tribal populations to cross with ease.

If NGOs blindly assist and encourage the great migration, they risk aggravating tensions and will encourage a situation where only some groups can access land and aid, leaving the vast majority of minorities to fend for their lives once again. For this is the reason many neither facilitate nor promote refugee returns to South Sudan, as returns would not only be unfeasible and unsustainable but undignified.