Fleeing in S Sudan and asked to move again

UN temporarily stops relocating displaced people to new camps after facing resistance from a frightened population.

Almost 11,000 people have been relocated from Tomping with just over 3,000 left [Richard Nield/Al Jazeera]

The UN has suspended the relocation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Juba to a site outside the city after meeting resistance from those it is encouraging to move.

IDPs are angered by the dismantling of their homes and shops, and what they perceive as a forced move to a site that they feel will make them isolated and more vulnerable to attack.

“We have had to suspend the relocation process because of security incidents involving NGO staff,” Joe Contreras, spokesman for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told Al Jazeera.

“We have encountered some resistance to the move. There have been some nasty exchanges and threats made against the staff of our humanitarian partners.”

The peace signed is not a peace. It’s a game played by the leaders. There is no peace that addresses the root problem.

Kobuong Gatduop

The move involves the relocation of IDPs from the UNMISS base at Tomping near Juba airport to a protection of civilians (POC) site known as POC3, a few kilometres outside Juba. Almost 11,000 people have been relocated from the Tomping site since March, with just over 3,000 remaining.

According to Contreras, people are only being moved with their consent.

“We’ve made them aware of the alternatives and urged them to avail themselves of the [relocation] option,” he says. “All relocations are voluntary. We don’t force anyone to move against their will.”

But the perception among many in the camp is that while initial relocations were voluntary, people are now being forced to move to the new site.

“We think we are being forced against our will,” says 24-year-old Tomping resident Gatuak Dogor. “The way they have been dismantling our houses suggests it is an order. They dismantle your house whether you like it or not.”

“We don’t need to move,” says Nyayena Matik, another camp resident.

“Only the UN has made the decision. We have not been asked. It’s not a request, it’s compulsory. I’ve seen them dismantling houses and it’s only a matter of time before they come here.”

Contreras confirms that the dismantling of tented homes and shops has taken place against the wishes of some camp residents.

“Some structures at the IDP site have been dismantled to allow our staff to more easily access the site,” he says. “In some cases shelters too close to the perimeter of the compound have been dismantled and in other cases shacks put up by people trading alcohol without a licence have been taken down.”

‘UN didn’t listen’

According to Contreras, there have been consultations with camp community leaders over the relocation, but while residents confirm that consultations have taken place, there is scepticism that the views of the community were taken on board.

Much of the Tomping site has already been cleared leaving rubbish and razor wire behind [Richard Nield/Al Jazeera]

An area of the camp known as Little Jamaica, where living conditions were particularly difficult and violence frequent, has been totally dismantled by UNMISS in recent months.

“It is unfortunate that the UN didn’t listen to the community who said they would handle it,” says 38-year-old Buom Kobuong Gatduop, a Tomping resident and liaison between the UN and the local community.

“Instead of involving the community leaders the UN came with guns and tanks. There are people who have trauma, and when they see guns and tanks they go through the experience again that they had outside.”

Those living in the Tomping camp are predominantly from the Nuer tribe, and fled to the site to escape the massacre of Nuer men by members of South Sudanese armed forces in Juba between December 15 and 19. 

Camp residents are resistant to the move to POC3 for a variety of reasons, including the distance of the site from Juba and a perception that they will be less safe.

Some Tomping residents leave the camp during daylight hours to secure essential provisions from the town, and sometimes to work. “Inevitably there are those that want to stay put rather than move to the outskirts of town,” says Contreras.

There is also a perception in Tomping that the IDPs will be more vulnerable to attack if they are all moved to one location.

“If we are in one place we are all in danger,” says Dogor. “Why can’t they let us all stay here? It is our human right. We came here seeking a safe place. I cannot understand why we are being moved. If I have to go [to POC3] I will leave the country.”

UNMISS insists that the POC3 camp is secure, but admits that there are ongoing problems with security.

“We are confident that the facilities provide safe and secure accommodation within our resources,” says Contreras. “It doesn’t mean that fighting doesn’t break out among IDPs or that tensions don’t flare up between IDPs and residents.

“But we constantly patrol the POCs [protection of civilians sites] and the POC perimeter and we are deploying specially trained personnel specialised in crowd management to curb disturbances.”

Despite opposition to the move, UNMISS plans to resume the relocation as soon as possible. “The hope is that we will relocate all of [the Tomping IDPs] in the coming weeks,” says Contreras.

Stuttering peace talks

There are also plans to re-integrate some IDPs to homes in Juba.

A boy walks past a shop at the Tomping camp, which used to accommodate about 11,000 people [Richard Nield/Al Jazeera]

“A pilot programme is being set up by the South Sudan National Police Service,” says Contreras.

“It has identified three neighbourhoods where police are hoping to persuade people to go. But it’s still in the preparatory stage.”

There remains an overwhelming fear among residents of both Tomping and POC3 that any move outside the protection of UNMISS will put them in mortal danger.

“I’m not going out,” says 36-year-old Gadet Yuon, who was relocated to POC3 in May after five months in Tomping. “All of the problems are still going on. It’s not safe to go back to Juba.”

“If you leave the camp to go to Juba you are finished,” says 26-year-old Ruai James Manythot.

The International Authority on Development (IGAD) mediated a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa on 25 August that was meant to pave the way for the creation of a transitional government.

But last minute changes to the deal sowed the seeds of its failure, and opposition forces nominally controlled by former vice president Riek Machar failed to sign key parts of the agreement.

Among the residents of Tomping and POC3 spoken to by Al Jazeera, none believes that there is a realistic prospect of peace.

“The peace signed is not a peace,” says Gatduop. “It’s a game played by the leaders. There is no peace that addresses the root problem. The new peace doesn’t solve anything, giving all the power to [president] Salva Kiir, rewarding him for killing us.”

“We need peace,” says Matik. “But the big problem is that the leaders seem not to see our suffering.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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