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


Photo: 2022 © MERCYPARTNERS


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. 


Preparation for the 2023 election requires census-taking and voter registration, which will be especially contentious, only ripening the current insecurity. There is little to no focus on a peace process, and the lack of progress goes ignored as the government and the opposition guard borders, both external and internal, for sympathetic voters.


Oddly, the war has accelerated the process of urbanization. Urbanization is the result of unchecked foreign funds meant for widespread development being placed in the lap of corrupt elites. Meanwhile, the standing population has discarded small-scale agriculture that would otherwise sustain returnees and instead lived off the dole of their corrupt tribal leaders.



In 2019, tracking of 6,800 Western Equatoria returnees dead-ended. Their fate is unknown. War crimes and other violations against members of communities who had previously lived in harmony and intermarried for generations are well documented. People set on fire and mutilated are crimes that most South Sudanese were only subjected to by Sudan's Arab hired milia, the Janjaweed. — Now it is their own countrymen that drive the wedge.


Populations try to escape indiscriminate gunfire, while their entire villages are set on fire. Many witness bodies of civilians lined along the road while fleeing.


As recent as this past September (2021), in Tambura town, a 20-year-old woman reported that men came and killed her 27-year-old husband as she and their three-year-old watched.


"I, my husband and child were sleeping… One of them came in and took my husband out by force… they sat him near the door and shot him… in front of me. My husband fell down." 

The older sister reported being captured in the bush as they attempted to flee after their brother was shot dead. She said that armed men took them and other civilians captive and proceeded to kill some of them. "They ordered us to sit down and said they were going to slice us like a pumpkin," she shared. The fighters had tied their hands behind their backs and placed her 18-month-old next to her. Then, one of the fighters yelled, "put his leg on [my sister's] head and cut her neck with a knife." 


Families who are separated while fleeing in different directions cannot reunite months later. Traveling with just the clothes on their backs, many go without food for days. Some women report giving birth along the way, while others report children dying from medical complications in the journey. 


Now is your chance to help refugees...

Monthly giving is the most convenient, effective, and efficient way you can help people fleeing conflict. Since 2019, MERCYPARTNERS has successfully continued to respond to the crisis by addressing the needs of refugees who have to cross the southern border into Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in West Nile, Uganda.

MERCYPARTNERS provides emergency food, clothing, and sustainable resources, such as goats and safe water wells. 



Start making a lifesaving difference today:




Photos: 2022 © MERCYPARTNERS

 

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Thomas, Communications Director for Mercy Partners



ABOUT THE AUTHOR...

Thomas Kilian III, as Communications Director, has personal relationships with our Global Partners having traveled to most of our mission points. He is degreed with a Bachelors of Science, with high honor, and is a candidate for Masters of Theology from NationsUniversity. He's an ordained Evangelist and is the author of the book, Start being, Stop Doing (www.startbeing.today).



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