Thursday, July 10, 2014

South Sudan: No reason to celebrate independence, say internally displaced persons

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan

9 July 2014 - Even before the crisis, many South Sudanese people saw no reason to celebrate independence, internally displaced persons (IDPs) said in Juba recently, ahead of today’s third independence anniversary celebrations.

As the country commemorated the anniversary, the mood in protection-of-civilians sites on UNMISS bases in the national capital could be described as indifferent.

“There is nothing to celebrate when you are living in an IDP camp,” said Pastor Peter Chuol, who has been living at an UNMISS protection site in Juba since 16 December 2013. “Even before the crisis started, we did not celebrate. Celebrate what?”

According to Mr. Chuol and several other men now living at the newest protection site next to the Mission’s headquarters, they got the feeling soon after independence that it was not a national achievement.

“We fought for 57 years and won,” said Isaac Kuech, a policeman and former Yirol County Commissioner in Jonglei State, from where he hails. “Then, it started to appear that only some tribes had gained independence. I am South Sudanese, but I don’t feel like a citizen.”

As the pastor’s three sons cleared grass under his new shelter, he said he was happier to be in a “camp” with UNMISS protection, than at his house in Juba town because “we are safe here”.

The rest of Mr. Chuol’s family left the protection sites to move to Kakuma camp in Kenya, while relatives who were living at his ancestral home in the Upper Nile capital Malakal moved to the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

“Since the day I left my house, I have never seen it again. This is now my house,” he said, pointing at wooden structures over which his sons were going to put plastic sheets distributed by humanitarian partners.

“We have been told that soldiers took over the houses and if you went to reclaim them, you might be killed. Is that independence?”

Seven months since they started living in the protection sites, the men said they had no immediate plan to return home.

“I am a policeman,” said Mr.Kuech. “I know that out there, we are supposed to help people feel secure, but if I am unable to return, how can you expect civilians to go back?”

As senior citizens of their communities, the men were adamant that there was no other solution to South Sudan’s crisis except federalism.

“We cannot live as one people,” said Mr. Kuech. “There are too many grievances for us to ever be united under one leader, no matter which tribe that leader comes from. The best way would be for us to all be settled in specific areas as tribes.”

Mr. Chuol said that as a pastor, it was difficult sometimes to preach or give any words of encouragement to hungry women and children living in muddy conditions and at risk of disease.

“Yet in the end, that is all we have,” he said. “God has brought this to us. As a pastor, I pray that He will heal our hearts, comfort widows and orphans, change our leaders’ hearts and give us peace.”