Ethnic Minorities in South Sudan’s Camps Face Insecurity in Warring Nation: Testimonies from Missionaries
Global Sisters Reporter (GSR) || By Chris Herlinger || 05 October 2017
South Sudan’s future is bound up with fear, something on vivid and visceral display at the large United Nations camps outside of the capital of Juba.
At the Protection of Civilians, or POC, Camp #3, nearly 40,000 people are congested into an area that is only a quarter-square mile. As people violently uprooted from their homes, they are trapped, afraid to leave the compound.
People in the camps fear not only ongoing attacks just outside the camp, but also what lurks beyond the camp’s perimeters. They believe that the capital of Juba is hostile to them because they are not Dinkas, the largest single ethnic group in South Sudan and the group that dominates the national government and its military.
They are Nuers, mainly, but also other non-Dinka ethnic groups, including Shilluks, Mundaris, Baris, Murles, Anyuaks, and Jurchols.
As non-Dinkas, they feel the government and its supporters are targeting them — a charge the South Sudanese government denies, saying it is fighting an anti-government insurgency trying to topple the regime.
The first U.N. camps were created following the onset of civil war in South Sudan in late 2013, intended to protect civilians fleeing violence. The United National Mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, hosts about 218,000 in seven camps in South Sudan, two of them in Juba.
The people in these camps are united by dread. If South Sudan is to move forward toward a better future, such fear will have to end, observers say. But that seems like a very distant hope.
In an editorial published in late July, the Kenya-based East African said, “South Sudan is heading into the political abyss. The country is disintegrating before our eyes as it sinks into unstructured fighting in various states.”
Noting that the world “appears to have forgotten South Sudan,” the editorial said “regional states are too divided to come up with a workable solution to end a civil war that has gone on for almost four years, claimed over 60,000 lives and left over four million displaced — two million are displaced within the country and another two million have fled to neighbouring Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan.”
In short, any sense of normality in the country, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, has disappeared.
“People’s minds are always on this distress,” said Sr. Soosai Pashal, who coordinates the work at the camp by the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or DMI sisters, an India-based congregation.
Stress is a constant. People are eager to resume some sense of normality in what is an abnormal situation, with only emergency food rations to live on, waiting for some signal that the political situation will improve.
“I’ve been here in this camp myself for four years. I know how difficult it is,” said Stephen Chieng Keak Luak, a Neur who works with the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate sisters as an assistant head teacher at a sister-run school at the camp. “But I can’t tell you when the problems will end. The solution is in the hands of the politicians, but they never take care of the situation,” he said, echoing a common belief that politicians exploit ethnic differences for political gain.
Luak paused. “If real peace comes, I will be the first to leave.”
But he acknowledges that is likely to take quite some time. The Protection of Civilians camps were intended as a short-term response to the widespread violence. But it now appears the camps are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
The East African editorial noted that “ethnic militias are emerging to fight each other and use rape as a weapon of war,” citing an Amnesty International report chronicling acts of horrific sexual violence by government soldiers against civilians.
The editorial said differences between political rivals President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Neur, have “now morphed into a free-for-all war of survival in the face of a collapsed economy, high unemployment among the youth, and famine caused by many years of war.”
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